The Syd Barrett that Roger Waters met while studying at Cambridgeshire High School For Boys was a starkly different soul to the one who he later saw for the final time, a meeting which continues to haunt Waters to this day.
They were just kids when they became friends, and together, the pair made magic with Pink Floyd. Tragically, drugs took a stranglehold on Barrett, who slowly morphed into a shadow of his former self. Eventually, the band had no choice but to fire him because he was no longer in a fit state to perform.
After his exit, the band members initially did all they could to help him and make sure his health didn’t continue to decline. Despite their best efforts on his two solo albums, both released in 1970, Barrett was a lost cause and beyond help, which caused his relationship to collapse.
As a band, they’d have one more meeting with Barrett. One day during recording, Barrett (now heavyset, with a completely shaved head and eyebrows) wandered into the studio (although Mason has since stated that he is not entirely certain whether "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" was the particular work being recorded when Barrett was there). Because of his drastically changed appearance, the band did not recognize him for some time. When they eventually realised that the withdrawn man in the corner was Barrett, Roger Waters became so distressed about Barrett's appearance that he was reduced to tears. Someone asked to play the suite again for Barrett and he said a second playback was not needed when they had just heard it. When asked what he thought of the song, Barrett said it sounded a "bit old". He subsequently slipped away during celebrations for Gilmour's wedding to Ginger Hasenbein, which took place later that day. Gilmour confirmed this story, although he could not recall which composition they were working on when Barrett showed up.
The episode is taken up by Wright as follows:
Roger was there, and he was sitting at the desk, and I came in and I saw this guy sitting behind him – huge, bald, fat guy. I thought, "He looks a bit... strange..." Anyway, so I sat down with Roger at the desk and we worked for about ten minutes, and this guy kept on getting up and brushing his teeth and then sitting – doing really weird things, but keeping quiet. And I said to Roger, "Who is he?" and Roger said "I don't know." And I said "Well, I assumed he was a friend of yours," and he said "No, I don't know who he is." Anyway, it took me a long time, and then suddenly I realised it was Syd, after maybe 45 minutes. He came in as we were doing the vocals for "Shine On You Crazy Diamond", which was basically about Syd. He just, for some incredible reason picked the very day that we were doing a song which was about him. And we hadn't seen him, I don't think, for two years before. That's what's so incredibly... weird about this guy. And a bit disturbing, as well, I mean, particularly when you see a guy, that you don't, you couldn't recognize him. And then, for him to pick the very day we want to start putting vocals on, which is a song about him. Very strange
Waters detailed the event during a conversation with The Mirror in 2008. He had begun by talking about once experimenting with acid and went on to talk about Barrett’s health, which he didn’t believe was exclusively down to the drugs.
He said: “It’s quite amazing to have your aural and visual perceptions overturned like that – but so what? The only art that lasts is art that comes from people who experience their connections with their fellow man and woman in ways that are more deeply felt. To think drugs have a part in that is bollocks, frankly.”
“Who knows what he might have done without it, but I don’t think Syd was driven crazy by too much acid,” Waters continued. “The symptoms of the mental illness he had were exacerbated by acid, but I don’t think it made him ill.”
Waters concluded: “When he died, he had been gone for so many years. When I heard he was ill, I tried and failed to contact his sister to ask if I could help. But there was nothing that could be done. It wasn’t like he needed any money. Everything that could be done for him was done. The last time I saw him was a couple of years. After he turned up at the Wish You Were Here sessions. I bumped into him in Harrods where he used to go to buy sweets. But we didn’t speak – he sort of scuttled away.”
The fall of Barrett is epitomised in Waters’ final encounter with him, and the fact they didn’t speak to each other is utterly heartbreaking. At one time, they were inseparable, and then unfathomably, they weren’t even on talking terms.