The backstory to Shine on You Crazy Diamond is a tragic story of mental illness. It captures the dark and surreal oddness that draws people to Pink Floyd and their musical style.
Roger Keith "Syd" Barrett (6 January 1946 – 7 July 2006) was an English musician, composer, singer, songwriter, and painter. Best known as a founder member of the band Pink Floyd, Barrett was the lead singer, guitarist and principal songwriter in its early years and is credited with naming the band. Barrett left Pink Floyd in April 1968 and was briefly hospitalized amid speculation of mental illness exacerbated by lifelong traumatization.
The album Wish You Were Here and the song Shine On You Crazy Diamond were dedicated to their former bandmate.
We originally did the backing track over the course of several days, but we came to the conclusion that it just wasn't good enough. So we did it again in one day flat and got it a lot better. Unfortunately nobody understood the desk properly and when we played it back we found that someone had switched the echo returns from monitors to tracks one and two. That affected the tom-toms and guitars and keyboards which were playing along at the time. There was no way of saving it, so we just had to do it yet again.
With the invention of 16-track and 2-inch tape there was the belief for quite a while that there would be something wrong with editing tape that big. Consequently whenever we played these pieces, they had to be played from beginning to end. Particularly for Roger [Waters] and myself being the rhythm section, which would be laid down first, this was [chuckling] a fairly tough business because the whole thing had to be sort of right.
Children of Darkness & Personal Journeys
with Mental Illness Highlight Deficient
Therapies and Need for Drug Legislation
Someone asked to play the suite again and Barrett said a second playback wasn't needed when they'd just heard it. Apparently, when "Wish You Were Here" was played, "He [Barrett] stood up and said, 'Right, when do I put my guitar on?'" Wright recalled. "And of course, he didn't have a guitar with him. And we said, 'Sorry, Syd, the guitar's all done.'"
When asked what he thought of Wish You Were Here, Barrett said it sounded a "bit old". He subsequently slipped away during celebrations for Gilmour's wedding to Ginger Hasenbein, which had taken place earlier that day. Gilmour confirmed this story, although he could not recall which composition they were working on when Barrett showed up.
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 he 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 recognise 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.
The Story of Wish You Were Here