Tuesday, November 24, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: Ringo Starr: Photograph


In addition to being the most famous rock and roll drummer in the world from the most famous rock and roll band that ever existed, Ringo Starr has been a very talented photographer for most of his adult life. Indeed, since the Beatles all first got their own cameras around 1963/1964, Ringo has had an interest in photography and has taken scores of photos for his personal enjoyment. In 2013, he decided to open up his archives and release a collection through Apple's iBooks as well as an extremely limited edition hardcover book containing his pictures. I read the iBook and thoroughly enjoyed it, although it only contained a portion of what he'd released in the hardbound book. Luckily, this past month saw the release of the hardcover in a mass market edition so that fans of Ringo, the Beatles, and photography can now enjoy all of the pictures he's released.




***special thanks to Rhianna at Genesis Publications for sending a copy of the book to review!***

While Ringo has famously said that he'll never write an autobiography because people are "only interested in eight years of my life (1962-70)," in Photograph he seems quite happy to focus the bulk of his photos on behind-the-scenes Beatles snaps. The book flows in chronological order from his birth in Liverpool in 1940 through his childhood and the beginnings of his musical career. Much of the material in this early section was collected and saved by his mother and found by Ringo many years later after she'd passed away while he was going through boxes in her attic. What's nice about the photos in this section is that they offer a glimpse as to what it was like growing up in post-WWII England...the houses, the clothes, the prices of common household goods, and how kids and teenagers dressed, acted, and had fun. There are even photographs of Ringo in hospital during his two illnesses, their council home rent book, and the hire purchase papers for his first drum kit. The photographs then trace his musical apprenticeship and his tenure in Rory Storm and the Hurricanes as they played in Liverpool and Hamburg, also documenting his budding friendship with the Beatles. The bulk of the book focuses on his tenure in the Beatles and the decade after their 1970 split. This is where the book really shines as these are shots taken by Ringo and could only have come from the camera of someone who was in the eye of the hurricane that was Beatlemania. Several of Ringo's Beatles photos have become very well known and been widely reproduced over the decades, but the most fascinating ones are those that appear mundane or unremarkable on first glance. Taken backstage, in hotel rooms, at home, on vacation, from the back of a car or while on a train, Ringo captured the sights and feel of the world around the Beatles as they toured America, the UK, Japan, and everywhere in between. Even better are the candid shots of John, Paul, George, Brian Epstein, George Martin, Mal Evans, and Neil Aspinall. Many of them are exquisite shots where the lighting and background just happened to be perfect, capturing them in playful, pensive, contemplative, or relaxed moods. Several shots are of the guys eating, drinking, smoking, listening to music, and doing normal everyday things that Ringo was fortunate to capture for posterity. He also took several pictures of the various photographers, such as Bob Freeman and Dezo Hoffman, who hung around the band in those earlier years as they themselves snapped photos of the Beatles. It's a bit jarring yet quite interesting to see his pictures of the Beatles and their wives on vacations between tours, when they could grow beards and let their hair and clothes get away from the Beatle "look" they had to keep up while in the public eye. Shots like these go a long way toward demystifying the band and showing that behind the great music and iconic fashions, at its heart the Beatles was a band made up of four normal guys who had a deep love and friendship for each other, who were all going through the same incredible experience together.



After the Beatles split, Ringo shares numerous photos of his life in the 1970s and 1980s, many including his closest friends like Keith Moon, Harry Nilsson, and Joe Walsh (who is now his brother-in-law). This section of the book is not as large as the previous sections and speeds up rather abruptly from the late 1980s to present, but it's still nice to see these shots, including several of Ringo with George, Paul and Linda, Eric Clapton, George Martin, and others. As this is the closest the world will ever get to a Ringo autobiography, Ringo did a wonderful job telling his story in photographs. Accompanying the photos throughout are write-ups from Ringo offering his insight, stories, and the memories behind most of the pictures. In particular, the warmth and affection he has for his fellow Beatles, as well as Keith Moon, is quite revealing. His recollections of the real Moon and the sweet guy behind the madcap public persona of "Moon the Loon" was quite touching, especially as I'm a huge fan of Moon and the Who myself.  If I do have a complaint about the book, it's mainly that the post-Beatles years are quite sparse in terms of the number of photos and that they are spread out a bit more haphazardly and not in as tight a chronological order as the previous sections. Perhaps Ringo wants to keep most of these pictures private, and that's certainly understandable as they're his personal property, but as a fan I would have liked to have seen more of them as they document his life as he's gotten older and reached the present day.



Ringo's Photograph book is a fun and engaging collection of photographs that any Beatles and Ringo fan will thoroughly enjoy. Photography books like this can tend to vary in terms of quality and readability, but Photograph is one the better ones in the genre. Flipping through this book feels as though you're sitting on a sofa looking through Ringo's picture albums as he sits next to you and tells you a story for each one; the effect is more like sharing memories with an old friend than simply looking through a book. The pictures are reproduced in very nice quality on glossy paper and Ringo's narrative greatly enhances the images. Photograph is one of the nicest Beatles books I've added to my library and would be a worthy addition to any Beatles fan's bookshelf.

MY RATING: 9/10



Thursday, November 19, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: The Who: The Official History



2015 marks the year that The Who are celebrating their 50th anniversary. I disagree with this classification for a couple of reasons, mainly because A) 1964 was the year in which they solidified their lineup of Daltrey, Townshend, Entwistle, and Moon and released their first single, "I Can't Explain," and B) they really haven't been The Who since Keith Moon died in September 1978. However, as it's their band, it's their choice as to when they want to celebrate their anniversary.  In any event, as one of my favorite bands of all time and one of the most influential bands in history, it was with great excitement that I looked forward to the publication of this official history, especially as it promised to have input from the two surviving members of the band, Pete and Roger. Written by Ben Marshall, upon receiving this attractive book and seeing the eye-catching cover dripping with classic Who iconography, I proceeded to tear into it to see how the story of this fantastic band, this band that has meant so much to my life and the lives of countless others, would be told from an official perspective.


***special thanks to Leslie at Harper Collins for sending a copy of the book to review!***

The introduction of the book hints that, while written by Marshall, there will also be heavy input from Roger and Pete. Of course, upon reading this I was looking forward to the insight they could offer, but it became apparent rather quickly that in actuality there would only be photo captions written by Pete and for all intents and purposes, nothing from Roger, which was very disappointing and gave the book a whiff of being a bit of a half-hearted/cash-in. How could this be an official history with such minimal input from the last two remaining members of the Who? Pete's captions, as would be expected, are quirky, funny, honest, sarcastic, and unmistakably Townshend. The downside is that, the further I got into the book,  the more they served as constant reminders of how more (much more) of his input would have enhanced the book. Ben Marshall starts the Who history (Whostory?) with the backdrop of WWII Britain and the birth of the four members at the tail end of the war (or in Pete and Keith's cases, after the war ended). Inserted in this section were sidebars on life in the post-war austerity period in the UK as well as the rise of Teddy Boy subculture and rock and roll. Sidebars such as these appeared throughout the book and become more and more intrusive and eventually threatened to overwhelm the Who's story, but I'll elaborate on that more later. From here, the author goes through their various pre-Who bands and how they came together until the line-up was completed in early 1964 with the arrival of Keith Moon. The remainder of the chapters are split into eras, focusing on their first album and singles during their Mod period, their Pop Art period of 1966-1968, Tommy in 1969-1970, their period as a top act in 1971-1974, and the remainder of their career with Keith until his death in 1978. This rightly takes up the bulk of the book, with the balance dedicated quite briskly to their attempt at carrying on post-Keith from 1979-1982 and the subsequent reunion tours of 1996-present.



When going through the book, I kept feeling like it wasn't meeting my expectations as to what an "official history" should be but that eventually something I'd hit upon something that would rectify this. However, I kept reading and after finishing the book I couldn't help but think that this book was a real disappointment and, worse than that, a huge missed opportunity. There are several reasons I feel this way. First and foremost, Ben Marshall's written history offers little to no new insight or information about the band or their history. Much of the narrative is quoted verbatim from the Who's remastered CD liner notes and various documentaries and previous books that will be well known and instantly recognizable to any of my fellow hardcore Who fanatics. There were also numerous typos/grammatical errors, as well as several flat-out inaccuracies. These ranged from what I'm assuming are honest errors such as calling the Who's album from 1978, Who Are You, Who's Next (which came out in 1971) by mistake, to the author constantly messing up the name of their recent documentary Amazing Journey, which got to be very irritating. The sidebars, which grew to be almost as long as the chapters themselves, were sometimes fun and informative (such as the ones on Mods and Teddy Boys), but eventually became too long and off-topic, detracting from the central story of the Who. One of them was a long treatise on the history of the hippie subculture; while I understand this happened during the Who's career in the 1960s, the Who were one of the few bands of the era who, apart from dabbling in some florid clothing and LSD, were never remotely close to being a hippie/psychedelic band either in terms of their sound or attitudes, and as such were set apart from the entire movement. There were also some long sidebars on the Mods vs. Rockers fights of 1964 (which made sense as Pete wrote about these on the Quadrophenia album) and a heartwarming but unnecessary (at least in my opinion) vignette about a former London punk drummer telling the story of his brother watching the Who rehearse a few times in the mid-1960s. In all honesty, the book ran out of steam, and quickly, after the chapter-long tribute to Keith Moon. Granted, from that point onward I don't consider the band to really have been the Who, but in my mind if this is to truly be a definitive official history, there should have been more detail on the post-Keith years. There was very little to nothing, for instance, on the Cincinnati incident of 1979, the 1996 Hyde Park Quadrophenia reunion, or their subsequent tours in the 2000s. Apart from a chapter-long tribute to John Entwistle, this final section of the book seemed unnecessary and hurried, and for a band who has desperately tried to convince their fans and themselves that the years after 1978 (and especially after 1982) have been just as vital and essential a part of their history as the 1964-1978 period, it seemed half-assed. Finally, there were far too few picture captions by Pete and far too little input from him throughout the entire book...combined with their being zero input or insight from Roger, it seems a little specious, at least to me, to call this an official history and imply on the cover that it's Roger and Pete telling their story when really, it isn't. This may be an officially sanctioned history of the Who, but it certainly isn't their version of, say, the Beatles' Anthology book which was truly 100% in their own words. A band as important, influential, and revered as the Who deserves better as the official word on their own career.


For all of their visceral, reckless, and aggressive energy, The Who were always one of the most cerebral, reflective, and introspective bands who also were the first (and in my mind, still the best) to reflect back at their audience who they really were. Given what Pete's autobiography was like and what the best of their music offers, it was only natural that I would assume that the official history of the band would embody all of these qualities. However, I have to conclude that this book is a major disappointment and a real missed opportunity to tell their history in their own words, especially as it could have been done really well in a way only Pete and Roger could do. This book is more accurately a band history written by an outside author with minimal input from the two surviving members. Yes, there are some great photographs throughout the book, several that were even new to me, but the actual story, i.e. the words, were almost inconsequential and will offer nothing to any dedicated Wholigan. Is this a book hardcore Who fans should have? Yes, it probably is, but at the same time it's not one they need to have. For a band who has given so much to their fans, and who in turn have demanded so much from their fans in return, the incongruity with respect to this book is jarring. The end result is disappointing, especially if this ends up being the final official word from Roger and Pete on The Who.

*THIS* is what the Who were all about. Crank up the volume and enjoy!


MY RATING: 6/10




Monday, November 16, 2015

Billy Joel

Billy Joel circa 1977

I always feel bad calling Billy Joel one of my "guilty pleasures"...he's one of the most commercially and critically successful songwriters and musicians of the past fifty years and has written countless hit songs. Perhaps I shouldn't call him a "guilty pleasure" and instead say that he's one of my favorite musicians who most people who know me would be surprised I'm such a big fan of given when compared to everything else I listen to. But really, it should make perfect sense: he's a fantastic piano player, songwriter, singer, and can write hooks with the best of them (and as anyway who knows me know, I am and always have been a sucker for a well crafted song with an infectious hook). Over the course of his active career, Billy Joel released album after album full of great songs and became one of the most successful singer-songwriters of the 1970s and 1980s before retiring from popular music in the mid 1990s.






William Martin Joel was born in 1949 in Oyster Bay, Long Island to a German immigrant concert pianist and an English immigrant mother. He had a troubled childhood, with his parents divorcing in the mid 1950s and his father moving to Vienna, Austria. Reluctantly forced into classical piano lessons at a young age, Joel was captivated, as so many millions of others were, by the Beatles when he saw them on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964 and decided to drop out of high school in order to pursue a career in music full time. After playing on several demos and sessions with a few small-time groups, he joined a local band called The Hassles who released two albums. Following that, in 1970 he formed a short-lived heavy metal duo called Atilla with former Hassles drummer Jon Small. The duo released one unsuccessful album and split up when Joel's affair with Small's wife Elizabeth was revealed. She broke it off with both of them and, distraught, Joel attempted suicide by drinking furniture polish (in his own words, "it looked tastier than bleach"). Surviving the attempt to take his own life, Elizabeth reconciled with Joel and they eventually married.





Signing a terribly lopsided contract with a label called Family Productions, he released his debut album Cold Spring Harbor in 1971. The album sold poorly, much of it due to the mastering being too fast and the songs and vocals being too high-pitched, something which wasn't corrected until many years later. Realizing he'd been ripped off, Joel managed to sign with Columbia Records, who bought out his contract with Family. His second album, Piano Man, was his commercial breakthrough, led by the title track as well as underground radio stations in the northeast (especially in Philadelphia) playing the album's closing track, "Captain Jack." Relocating to Los Angeles, his follow-up album, Streetlife Serenade, is an underrated and overlooked one in his discography. Without any immediate hit singles apart from "The Entertainer," it's a bit darker and more melancholy, with tracks such as the title song, "Los Angelenos," "The Great Suburban Showdown," "Roberta," and the instrumental piano workout "Root Beer Rag" as definite highlights. Homesick for New York City, Joel moved back for good and his next album, Turnstiles, reflected his happiness at being home. Songs like "Say Goodbye to Hollywood," "New York State of Mind," and "Miami 2017 (I've Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)" reflect this, and are among the highlights of the album, as well as the classic "Prelude/Angry Young Man." By this point, Joel had a steady band behind him that would last for the next fifteen years and solidify his sound both in the studio and live on stage.




1977 saw the release of The Stranger, Joel's commercial and critical breakthrough album and the work that is still considered his magnum opus. The Stranger was packed with classic songs...almost the entire album has been in regular rotation on the radio since its release, with such songs as the title track, "Movin' Out," "Scenes From an Italian Restaurant," "Only the Good Die Young," "Just the Way You Are," "She's Always a Woman," and "Vienna" as classics. This album would also mark the beginning of a fruitful collaboration with producer Phil Ramone, who would produce all of Joel's albums up to and including 1986's The Bridge. The following albums 52nd Street ("My Life," "Big Shot," "Zanzibar"), Glass Houses ("You May Be Right," "Sometimes a Fantasy"), The Nylon Curtain ("Allentown," "Pressure," "Goodnight Saigon," "Laura") and his homage to 1950s and 1960s pop, An Innocent Man ("Uptown Girl," "The Longest Time," "Tell Her About It") continued a ridiculously strong run of albums and songs. It wasn't just the singles that were great...numerous album cuts were as good, or in some cases better than, the radio hits. There was a bit of a drop-off from here: 1986's The Bridge was very good but not great, but still had some excellent songs ("A Matter of Trust," "This is the Time") as did Joel's final two albums. 1989's Storm Front contained the hits "We Didn't Start the Fire" and "I Go to Extremes" while his final album, 1993's River of Dreams, had the title track and "Lullaby (Goodnight, My Angel)" as highlights. At this point, Joel decided to retire from writing and recording popular music, a surprising decision for someone of his talents. Since then, he's focused on writing classical piano pieces and has continued touring, both with his own band and in tandem with Elton John, playing his hits and entertaining millions of fans around the world. He's definitely on my bucket list of musicians I want to see, and seeing as how he's played Fenway Park in Boston the last two summers, I'm hoping that I have a really good chance of making it happen.

Billy Joel today, in 2015

As for my own fandom, I grew up listening to my parents' copies of The Stranger and 52nd Street on vinyl. My dad isn't a fan, but my mum is, so between those records and hearing all of his songs on the radio when I'd be listening with her, I became a fan at a very young age. Additionally, my best friend from elementary through high school was a huge fan. We sang many of Billy Joel's songs in the high school chorus and acapella groups I was in (including "The Longest Time," on which I performed the solo). From the beginning, I've been captivated by his fantastic songwriting...he writes melodies with the best of them and is also quite talented at writing songs that tell stories. His phenomenal piano playing has always been a highlight for me, as well as his singing voice. In fact, he's one of my favorite musicians to listen to and sing along with. The range of music he's produced goes from story songs like "Allentown," "Scenes From an Italian Restaurant," "Miami 2017 (I've seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)," and "Captain Jack" to ballads like "Honesty," "She's Got a Way," and "And So it Goes." There are belting rockers like "You May Be Right," "Big Shot," "Movin' Out," and "Los Angelenos," pure pop singles like "Uptown Girl" and "My Life," and numerous great album cuts like "Laura" (the best Lennon/McCartney song of the 1980s that they never wrote), "Vienna," "Roberta," "Zanzibar," and countless others. For many years during my youth, I used to hide the fact that I was such a big fan because he wasn't considered too "cool" by my peers. He also doesn't fit the mold of most of the musicians I listen to and I'd find many of my friends and family members to be quite surprised when I mentioned how much I liked him. However, as I've gotten older, I don't feel the need to be so coy about my fandom. So many of Billy Joel's songs have meant a lot to me throughout the various stages of my life and continue to do so to this day. Whether it's been during tough times or happy times, reflective, depressing times or exciting times, I've always found that his songs have a way of speaking to me as a listener and conveying their message and emotion both through their music and their lyrics. He may not fit in easily alongside the majority of what I listen to, but I'm proud and glad to be a fan of Billy Joel's music...it's meant, and continues to mean, so much to me and brought me such enjoyment that I can't ever imagine not having it in my life.


Thursday, November 5, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: A Very Irregular Head: The Life of Syd Barrett


There is perhaps no other figure in rock music so shrouded in mystery and legend than Roger "Syd" Barrett, one of the founding members of Pink Floyd. With his distinctive looks and quirky, one-of-a-kind songwriting and guitar playing, Syd was the creative guiding force that launched Pink Floyd out of the underground London art and music scene and onto the charts. However, just when it seemed that Syd and Pink Floyd were poised for a successful career, he lost the plot and succumbed to mental illness barely one year and one album in, spending the next four decades as a remote figure of interest, mystery, and in many unseemly cases, obsession until his death in 2006. Author Rob Chapman aims to lay bare all of the myths, half-truths, and flat-out inaccuracies of Syd's life and sad demise while giving a greater appreciation of his creative gifts in his comprehensive biography A Very Irregular Head: The Life of Syd Barrett.



***special thanks to Sean at Da Capo Press for sending me a copy of the book to review!***

Pink Floyd was one of the biggest and most commercially and critically successful bands of all time, releasing their greatest works throughout the 1970s. However, their origins in the mid-1960s show a much different band that could have gone in a far different direction had that short-lived configuration stayed together longer than it did; this was down to one man, Syd Barrett. A Very Irregular Head is the story of Syd's long, sad, and confusing life, from his idyllic childhood in Cambridge, his years as a popular and talented student and artist, and his stint in Pink Floyd, to his sudden decline and collapse, the public deterioration of his mental health, and his final decades in seclusion when he became a reluctant and unwitting icon. Starting with detailed background on young Roger Barrett's birth and childhood in Cambridge, Chapman uses the extensive research he's done and the numerous interviews he's conducted with Syd's siblings (especially sister Rosemary, who was Syd's caretaker for the final 25 years of his life), friends, teachers, and colleagues in order to paint the picture of a boy who was very popular. With his striking good looks, cultivated manner (being the product of a comfortable middle-class upbringing), and eccentric but charming personality, Syd (a nickname he picked up during his teenage years) by all accounts was a normal, well-adjusted young man. The death of his equally eccentric father when he was sixteen affected him as it would anyone, but it wouldn't be until years later that the true impact of this loss was seen by those around him. A talented artist, Syd followed in the tradition of so many other of his rock music peers in 1960s England and attended art school, in his case Camberwall in London. A very interesting revelation made by his close friends and families when discussing those years was their surprise that he ever made a foray into music. While he had a great love of music and played passable guitar, everyone around him was stunned by his talents as an artist and claimed that, in agreement with them, Syd considered himself first and foremost an artist who played in music and not the other way around. By 1965 he'd met up again in London with old friend Waters and two of Waters' classmates at architecture school, Nick Mason and Rick Wright. Forming a band and initially playing R&B and pop covers of the day, after several name changes Syd gave them the name with which they would eventually find eternal fame: Pink Floyd. During this same time, they began to play gigs in and around the London underground scene as Syd developed his highly idiosyncratic guitar technique and songwriting talent. (Let me note here that I will not be giving a potted Pink Floyd history in this review, nor does the book do this...it's been done before and isn't relevant seeing as Syd was in the band for less than three years). Eventually attracting management eager to guide them in recording some demo tapes, they were signed to EMI in 1966 and proceeded to release two seminal psychedelic singles ("Arnold Layne" and "See Emily Play") and their epochal debut album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. However, with fame came an increased workload of promotion and touring and Syd was ill-equipped to handle this. Fairly early on the cracks began to appear and by the end of 1967 his behavior had become so erratic, unpredictable, and potentially career-damaging that the drastic measure of bringing in another of his childhood Cambridge friends, David Gilmour, made the band a five-piece until the end of January 1968 when Syd was jettisoned in a frankly cowardly manner (something the four remaining members of the band have acknowledged in subsequent years). What the book makes clear in a way I had never thought of before is that the decision was driven more by a rather ruthless desire to save their burgeoning young careers than an altruistic attempt to help Syd, although it should be noted that they did try to help him. Unfortunately, you can only help people who want to be helped and Syd, whether knowingly or as a victim of his illness, did not want to be helped.



After his expulsion from Pink Floyd, it still seemed as though Syd had a promising solo career in front of him. With his unique songwriting gifts and the anything-goes musical climate of the late 1960s, Syd could have been a more eccentric and electric/eclectic version of Ray Davies or Bob Dylan with his observational songs. Instead, he sank deeper into mental illness, exasperating numerous producers (including David Gilmour, Roger Waters, and Rick Wright, all three of whom helped to produce Syd's two solo albums) such that the tortured and torturous sessions for the albums The Madcap Laughs and Barrett would be the last music he would ever make. A few more aborted attempts at recording and performing new music (including a VERY short-lived band, Stars) resulted in nothing of substance; Syd was by this point almost impossibly difficult to work with. A final collapse led to one of the most famous myths about him that turned out to be true: he walked back to his mother's house in Cambridge and, barring a few stints living in London hotels throughout the 1970s, remained there for the rest of his life. There was the famous occasion an overweight and cleanshaven (including head and eyebrows) Syd showed up unannounced and unrecognized at a 1975 Pink Floyd recording session, as well as an encounter with a journalist friend who didn't recognize him when attempting to visit him at the hotel he was living at, but otherwise he never saw anyone from the old Cambridge scene ever again apart from his first love, Libby Gausden. Syd (reverting back to his true name of Roger and discarding any vestiges of his past life as a rock star) lived the remainder of his days in a mundane but relatively peaceful existence in Cambridge, disturbed only by his declining mental health and the obsessive door-stepping and stalking by "fans" that, frankly, was disgusting, cruel, and intrusive. His ill health (both physically and mentally) eventually claimed his life in 2006, but did nothing to dispel the interest in his life and career and, if anything, actually heightened it.



Chapman's book is more than just a telling of Syd's life and career; it's also a scholarly look into the influences that affected his work and the its attributes. As both an artist and musician, Syd left behind a very small but unique and rich body of work and Chapman sifts through it with an almost overzealous attention to detail in his analysis. In fact, oftentimes it seems he goes a bit overboard reading too much into some of Syd's more nonsense/throwaway lyrics. There are also several passages dedicated to miniature history lessons on many of the writers and artists who influenced Barrett, so much so that the book begins to feel like an esoteric biography on these figures before Chapman reels himself back to Syd's story. While these sections don't ruin the book, they do make it a slog in places and almost (notice that I said almost) make it feel as though they were included in order to pad the pagecount. I'll admit to being initially surprised that a book about someone who made only three albums in his entire career and then disappeared weighed in at over 400 pages. However, the book does excel at painting a rich and detailed portrait of the Cambridge arts scene of the 1960s, as well as the underground London scene of 1964-1967, drawing on new interviews with nearly all of the central figures who give a vivid picture of those heady times. The only figures who were not involved in these discussions were the four members of Pink Floyd, who though they were quoted extensively, did not contribute directly to Chapman's research. Chapman also uses many parts of the book to play Mythbuster for the various "Syd Stories" that have popped up over the decades, using a combination of dogged research and logical empirical thinking to determine that for every story like Syd walking back to Cambridge or physically abusing one of his girlfriends in a drug-induced stupor (both true) there are many that are false (Syd being locked in a cupboard during a bad acid trip or crushing Mandrax and Bryllcream in his hair onstage, among others). These are valuable pieces of truth to finally have, although I do think the author's bias shows a bit as he tries to dispel myths about Syd's hopelessness in the studio post-Pink Floyd when a thorough listen to the same albums he uses as proof shows that while Syd wasn't completely incapacitated, he also was clearly not in complete control of his faculties. Finally, there are many theories discussed as to the mental illness(es) Barrett suffered from and whether they were caused by LSD (not fully) or were exacerbated and irreversibly triggered by it (more plausible, in my opinion). Had Syd been born in 1976 instead of 1946, societal attitudes and the mental health profession would have been much better equipped for understanding and treating him successfully, but unfortunately in the 1960s there was a stigma attached to mental illness as well as a warped romance of madness, neither of which did Syd any favors at all.



A Very Irregular Head is the story of just that: Syd Barrett's strange, sad life and the aura around his decline. But it's also the story of a young man who, even if he hadn't been sick, was most likely not equipped to deal with the sudden pressures of stardom, fame, and the 1960s music industry. It also brings up the poignant question of whether Syd's life could have or would have been different had he stuck to art and become one of the famous young 1960s artists he appeared destined to be. While there's the danger that the pressures of the art world could have been equally as damaging, it can't be denied that the music industry was (and still is) far more unforgiving than the art world. However, had that alternate history happened it's more than likely that Pink Floyd as we know them would not exist. Since I've not read any other books on Syd Barrett, I can't say for sure whether this book is definitive (although I think it would be safe to assume it is based on the depth of the author's research), but Rob Chapman's book is a dense, information-packed, and scholarly look at a true creative genius who burned brightly for a short burst before tragically and slowly flaming out over a lifetime. It's absolutely a must-read read for any Barrett and Pink Floyd fan.
 
MY RATING: 8/10