Saturday, July 5, 2008

The diamonds in the road

It was a book that fit in my back pocket, that's why I was reading it.

It is from a series of tiny books, called 33 1/3 after the r.p.m. of an LP, each dedicated to one important long-playing record. I know of the series because I was once offered the opportunity to contribute to it.

I got the go-ahead to write a think piece about Big Star's 3rd record. However, before I got very deep into writing the book, the series editor came back to me and said, rather than a think piece about the power of song order, he wanted a reported story about the making of the record.

My band Enormous Richard had played a gig with Alex Chilton, formerly of Big Star, when he first went back out on the road. He came across as a bitter and unpleasant person. All of the things one hears about the making of Big Star's 3rd is that it was a bad trip. I politely declined to go on that bad trip as a reporter, and thus lost my little book deal with 33 1/3.

But I still have many of the little books in my library, and each fits in the back pocket of my swimtrunks, which was what I was looking for in a book yesterday. I wanted to walk my kid to a neighborhood pool to enjoy the 4th of July - but I hoped she'd see another kid she knew or would luck into a spontaneous pool-side partnership, so that Daddy could get off the hook as playmate and could roast in the sun and read a book.

Things went my way, this time. So I pulled the tiny book (about the first Pink Floyd record, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn) out of my back pocket and had read it by the end of the day - actually, by the end of the night, after the fireworks, when the little book really got good.

The author, John Cavanagh, had taken the reportage approach (which I certainly agree, as an editor, would be the way to go with a book in such a series). He promises up-front this won't be another book about the distintegration of Roger "Syd" Barrett, and indeed he does not go slumming into pop psychology for why this man's mind apparently went bad.

But Piper is the only record the band made with him, and they only made one because Barrett melted down, so there is no real avoiding the subject of his schizophrenia or LSD abuse or the extreme diciness of abusing LSD when developing schizophrenia.

Kevin Ayers (who recently made a record with my friend Richard Derrick), says it best. "He wasn't there for me and he wasn't there for himself either."

The actor Matthew Scurfield, who grew up with Barrett in Cambridge, is more empathetic. He remembers Barrett as a magic man ruined by brute reality, rather than a madman. "It's very difficult in the modern world not to be shaken if you try to retain that innocence and keep that childhood world where you can see the diamonds in the road," Scurfield says of his childhood friend. "People say 'that's just drugs,' but it's not. Children have that kind of imagination."

I'll have to take his word about Syd Barrett (certainly, it's beautifully expessed), but I know he is right about children. As I drove my daughter to the fireworks last night, with my head deep in the ideas of this little book, she kept chattering about her imagination. She is just learning that you get to live things more than once if you use your mind, and you get to travel to places without actually getting there, and you get to chop and change and transform things to better suit yourself.

"I am using my imagination, right now," she said, cheerfully. "I am imagining I am still at the swimming pool." After the fireworks, she was imagining she was still at the fireworks. Even as children, we learn to live in the past.

No comments: