New Book Coming Soon: BELOW THE WHEEL

After publishing Angel with a Broken Wing last Summer, my next thought was… what do I do now? Go to the beach?

After much rumination, I decided to write another book. I wanted to create a thriller/detective novel that took place near Philly. Should I try to make the story inspired by real events?

Maybe.

I also wanted to make it about a couple of guys that were friends and decided to go into business together.

Alex Hunter and Scott Appel are two ex-investment brokers turned private investigators. Burned out from the competitive sales environment of buying and selling stock, they open the Watchman Detective Agency in Camden, New Jersey.

During an unbearable heatwave, the guys are caught up in a bizarre case. The Camden Strangler, as the media call him, has been murdering prostitutes in the area.

It’s a hard-boiled police procedural, using the classic Hitchcockian premise of the common man getting caught up in extraordinary circumstances. I wanted to explore some of the darker elements of life but seen through the eyes of lighthearted unique characters. I also wanted something with a shorter, timeframe than my previous book.

Below the Wheel takes place over two weeks in the lives of the characters.

I hope to finish it in the next few months.

Planned Release Date: June 22, 2021

 

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

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Tales of Rock -10 Most Notorious Hell-Raiser Rock Bands

Rock ‘n’ roll, as a rule, is not built for the faint of heart. You can be a sensitive soul with a message to get across in your emotionally wrought lyrics, sure, but if you’re looking to live that life, you’ve got to be prepared for a little rough and tumble.

The travel, the expectations, the screaming fans – it can become pretty grueling. And in such circumstances, it’s no surprise that some – most – rockers decide to kick back and party.

There’s indulging in a little carefree leisure time, though – and then there are the extremes to which some of rock’s most legendary hell-raisers take things. The music industry is filled with tales of excess and wild behavior, some of them funny, some of them impressive, some of them downright sinister.

The age of the degenerate, uncontrollable, pure id rockstar seems to be fading away – which may be for the best, given some of the legacies left behind – but with a century of hard-hitting, fast-living cowboys behind us, there’ll always be the stories to revel in, to be wowed by, and often appalled by.

10. Happy Mondays

Few bands have caused so much chaos with such good nature as the Happy Mondays. As part of the Madchester scene of the ‘80s and ‘90s, hedonism was naturally on the cards, and the band embraced the chemicals as much as any raver. And then, they took things that little bit further.

The Mondays’ drug habit was such that they would burn through their record label’s money at an astonishing pace, a lifestyle which has led to several members of the band declaring bankruptcy post-heyday. The uber-mellow ecstasy scene of the band’s early period led to some great psychedelic throwback records.

Things got sinister when the hard stuff set in during the early ‘90s. In an attempt to wean the band off heroin, the 1992 album Yes Please was recorded in Barbados, where Shaun Ryder successfully kicked his habit by transitioning onto crack. The sheer excess of this excursion led to the ruination of Factory Records.

Hearteningly, the majority of the Mondays seem to have come out the other side, and while one might argue that the modern mannerisms of Ryder and Bez show remnants of former drug use, the fact that they’re still in one piece, and still intermittently performing, is impressive indeed.

9. Guns N’ Roses

In a heartwarming postscript to the band’s ‘80s heyday, Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash now seems like one of the soundest musicians in rock. Always good for a quip and still clearly in love with what he does, he has, it seems, escaped a grubby scene unscathed.

Things seemed like they could go the other way for a long while. In the 1980s, as well as a brief stint as the biggest band in the world, few acts could have been consuming more booze and gear than Axl and the boys.

Slash took things the furthest when he briefly died in the early ‘90s after overdosing on speedballs. Resuscitated after eight minutes, it was the wake-up call he needed – a scant 15 years later, he got himself clean. Bassist Duff McKagan, meanwhile, managed to drink enough that his pancreas was swollen to the size of a football by age 30.

Most worrying, though, was the behavior of frontman Axl Rose. While less famous for his substance abuse, the man was a ticking time bomb for much of his career, challenging the entirety of Nirvana to a fight, ruining gigs with his timekeeping and temper, and hiring and firing band members at will.

8. Led Zeppelin

The band that wrote the rule book for rule-breaking rock bands, Led Zeppelin had seen it all and done it all before most notable bands had picked up a guitar or a needle. Some of their exploits are classic tales of wild rockers; others are downright sinister and indecent. One thing’s for sure, though: few if any have cleared the bar that Zeppelin set over 50 years ago.

There are particularly famous anecdotes (the mud shark incident, which doesn’t bear repeating, for one), but the band was just excess personified full stop. The hotel room trashing, hard-partying, the fast-living group was given its template by the success of Zeppelin, who only got more successful the faster they lived.

They all had their own vices – John Bonham, booze and fast cars; Robert Plant, ladies and eventually heroin; Jimmy Page, black magick and questionable romantic pursuits (to say the least). They flaunted their chaotic lives while putting out eight good to great albums in 10 years, which isn’t bad going.

They’ll forever be one of the most influential bands ever, but it’s debatable which part of their legacy is more important: the sound, or the decadence.

7. The Beach Boys

The clean-cut California surf enthusiasts may not strike you as the hardest partying outfit, but between the precise harmonies and musical innovation was a shockingly dark side, particularly in its most talented and most charismatic members, Brian and Dennis Wilson.

Brian, the epitome of tortured genius, raised hell primarily in his own mind. With the weight of the group on his shoulders and feeling in direct competition with the Beatles, he pushed himself into increasingly ambitious works through unconventional means, turning his mansion into a recording studio and filling it with sand.

His drug usage made him a hermit for a while, but that streak of self-destruction was more explosive in younger brother Dennis, who embraced the fast living sixties more than most. A major star before his 20s, there was no way he wasn’t going to embrace the lifestyle afforded to him by his group’s success.

So free-spirited was Dennis that he allowed the Manson family, pre-murders, to crash with him for a long while, an association he regretted to his premature death. It doesn’t get much more literally hell-raising than that.

6. Butthole Surfers

The legendary Texas band thrived on pure chaos. Their records are brash and irreverent, at times impenetrable, others brilliant. Their live shows were known and loved for their visceral, unpredictable nature (which later became pretty predictable, with audiences showing up specifically to become embroiled in the chaos).

The band built their own mythology, telling anyone who would listen of their daily routine – LSD-laced cornflakes, whisky, and gin being the regular diet for a six-month-long European tour – but they were no idle talkers. For those caught up in their drift, they were a frightening proposition, with concerts turning into orgies, brawls, or both.

The band’s music has been influential for heavy hitters like Kurt Cobain, but few since have been able to capture the sheer weirdness of the Surfers, who have burned enough bridges to sabotage a dozen careers, but always seem to come bouncing back,

Now well into middle age, the band’s core members have barely changed at all, still more than willing to catch a ban from various prestige festivals through sheer belligerence. Somehow, though, they always seem to bounce back.

5. Aerosmith

You don’t get a nickname like “The Toxic Twins” without putting in some serious mileage. From the late ‘70s to the tail end of the ‘80s, Aerosmith’s Joe Perry and Stephen Tyler were unstoppably indulgent. Given their status in the scene at the time, they’ve partied to extremes few could afford to top.

Perry, for example, hired a roadie whose sole responsibility was to sort him out with a bump of powder during a performance. Aerosmith had no time for admin – they had the money to ensure that they were fully topped up at all times; they had only to enjoy the spoils of war.

Burnout was inevitable, of course, and the rampant self-destruction led to infighting and a downturn in quality. Gigs were ended prematurely by Tyler, too blasted to notice they’d only just started playing. In due course, the band decided they had too good a thing going to let substances get in the way – they entered rehab and came out an entirely different proposition.

Aerosmith is now the power ballad band, rather than a group of raucous rockers. And while their bank balance and their health have taken a step in the right direction, the danger and the riffs are long gone.

4. The Sex Pistols

It’s no secret that the Sex Pistols, far from the new voice of gritty British discontent, were essentially a manufactured act. While they may have been the image-centric brainchild of Malcolm McClaren, though, they used their status as the country’s most dangerous group to live faster and harder than any other boyband you’d care to mention.

The Pistols were pure combat and codified much of what we now associate with punk: the antagonism, the spitting. Their gigs could turn into brawls, especially when they took the act to the USA, where crowds could be riled into launching glasses at the group, who lapped up the hatred like milk.

Chief among the miscreants was bassist Sid Vicious, hired for his look and attitude rather than his musical skills. While he didn’t contribute much musically, the band’s mythology resolved majorly around him. He attacked journalists, leaped with both feet into the heroin scene, and overdosed not long after (allegedly) murdering his girlfriend – a charming character all around.

They took on the monarchy and won (sort of), and brought unpalatable music and lifestyles to the mainstream. They may have been performatively outrageous (see: the Bill Grundy show), but few acts have made as much of a scene with so little time.

3. Robert Johnson
Wikipedia

Among the most mysterious figures in the history of rock, the famous Robert Johnson story purports that he sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for his legendary guitar prowess. One of the masters of the Delta Blues, Johnson’s relatively small back catalog means it is his wild and mysterious life that is now better remembered than the music itself.

Johnson spent much of his brief time wandering the earth (or, more specifically, America), peddling his blues and enjoying the fringe benefits afforded to a musician of his caliber. He would form relationships in every town, staying with various women who knew nothing of one another’s existence.

Johnson’s (possibly apocryphal) demise only serves to add to his legend: it is said that the notorious womanizer was poisoned – by a jilted lover, a jealous husband, or a rival, no one can be sure. Historians suggest he may have died of boring old syphilis – which, given his lifestyle, seems believable.

Whether or not he bartered with Satan, Johnson was one of 20th-century music’s first great wildmen, in a time when you could simply split town once you’d pushed your luck too far.

2. Mötley Crüe

Quite bad Mötley Crüe’s film The Dirt shows the group being out-extremed by Ozzy Osbourne, who cheerfully laps up urine and snorts a line of ants to wow the Californian rockers. While that anecdote sees Ozzy come out on top, though, there can be few acts for whom partying took such precedence as the Crüe,

The lifestyle suited the quartet, who embraced every faucet of rock stardom from the off. More groupies, more drugs, more booze. The band’s increased status directly correlated with the scale of their partying. They behaved like monsters for a good decade and got away with it because they were so popular.

Perhaps the most metal moment of their careers came when Nikki Sixx wrote the song “Kickstart My Heart” based on an overdose which led to his heart genuinely being restarted with adrenaline, allowing the Crüe bassist to join Slash in the “has been dead for a bit” club.

In one of the easiest gigs in journalism, author Neil Strauss got a book published simply by writing down all the grotty stuff Mötley Crüe got up to in the ‘80s, and it remains a classic of the genre – basically the Bible for bands whose ambition is to live the rock star cliche.

1. GG Allin & The Murder Junkies

You know you’ve sealed your credentials as a hell-raiser when you’re far, far more famous for being an undeniably disgusting human being than you are a musician. You know you’re not in for a gentle night of cheery tunes when you go see a band called “The Murder Junkies”, but audiences had never seen anything like GG Allin.

Allin would appear on stage, undress, and swiftly soil himself – and that was for starters. Fights with audience members were routine, and if a Murder Junkies gig ended without the frontman filthy, bloodied, and in the bad books of the venue owner, then you’d caught him on an off night.

The music was secondary to the performance, but in his lyrics Allin was ever incendiary, cheerfully throwing in racism and misogyny, ostensibly to provoke controversy and debate, rather than out of any real hatred. Naturally, you’ll find few backers for his discography these days.

Allin died predictably young, and he went out as he would have wanted – with his unpreserved, bloated corpse taking pride of place at a funeral-cum-party, during which his friends got loaded and posed with the carcass. There’ll never be another GG Allin, and that’s probably for the best.

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

Tales of Rock -10 Greatest Rock Documentaries You Need To See

Few areas of life lend themselves better to the documentary format than music. The life of a rock star is undeniably fascinating: alien to the likes of you and I, a little scary at times, but undeniably desirable. They do and say outrageous things, they perform before baying crowds, they often end up doing something out of order – what’s not to love?

There are rock docs, though, and there are rock docs. These days everything merits a camera presence – an album launch, a tune on a film soundtrack, a tour which needs that little extra oomph to get it over the line. Candid footage is commonplace these days.

Some docs, though, will stand the test of time and have cemented themselves as classics not just of the subgenre, but of non-fiction film full stop. A good rock doc can capture a time and a place, shifts in society as well as the inner thoughts of some of the culture’s greatest icons. They’re a window not just into the stars themselves, but the worlds they inhabit and sometimes affect.

And if they’ve got a whole bunch of smashing tunes, well, that’s just an added bonus.

10. Amy

Altitude Film Distribution

 

The tragic tale of Amy Winehouse is hardly a new one in the music business – star after promising star has succumbed to the temptations of substances and the pressures of fame. Few have done so as publicly as Winehouse, however, whose 2011 death felt at the same time heartbreaking and somewhat inevitable.

Asif Kapadia’s documentary is a sensitively made look into the life of a star who looked like she could be one of Britain’s best in many years (and perhaps, even in such a short time, still was). It takes a simple biographical approach, but crucially builds a deeper image of Winehouse than the troubled and self-destructive hellraiser of her public profile. She was all those things, of course, but there was far more to her than that, as the tremendously affecting interviews with her family and close friends go to show.

For Winehouse novices, the film provides a great life and career retrospective that ably demonstrates why she’s so beloved; for those already enamored with the late singer, there’s great early and rare footage of a woman who wasn’t around for long but left an indelible mark on modern music.

9. One More Time With Feeling

This isn’t a watch for a cheery night in. The death of Nick Cave’s son in 2015 came after the majority of his 2016 album Skeleton Tree had been written, but he was yet to step into the studio with his band The Bad Seeds.

Naturally, the loss cast a shadow on the entire production. Rather than subject himself to press junkets and interviews, Cave and Andrew Dominick collaborated on the masterful One More Time With Feeling, through which the singer could explore and explain his grief, as well as give fans a sneak preview of the upcoming record. Skeleton Tree’s sparse, haunting songs made their debut in the gorgeously shot black and white film, and they capture their singer’s feelings of distress, emptiness, and ultimately hope, better than words ever could. Cave doesn’t spill his guts to the camera, but the performances, weary yet driven and brilliant, tell us all we need to know.

It’s one for the fans primarily, but the lush camerawork, beautiful music, and terrible but universal story can appeal to a far wider audience. It’s an exercise in grief, but a wonderful and strangely uplifting film, too.

8. Amazing Grace

AP/AP

Blessed with one of the greatest voices music ever produced, Aretha Franklin’s legacy was guaranteed long before she was immortalized in this 2018 film (shot in 1972, but held up by legal proceedings until shortly after her death). Sydney Pollack’s Amazing Grace is a masterfully made concert film and a gift for a younger generation who can appreciate the power of Franklin’s awe-inspiring talents the way an audience should.

Backed up by a community choir, Amazing Grace is a testament to the healing powers of song and faith. You don’t need to sit Franklin down and interview her to get to the heart of the woman. You simply need to watch her perform and listen to her sing. At this time especially, her voice is astonishing and appears effortless. Her early life was far from easy, and she has spoken previously of the release music gave her; Amazing Grace is her opportunity to give that back to the world.

There will be others who can sing with the same technical proficiency or range or control as Franklin, but it’s hard to imagine there will be many if any who can access so naturally the purity of emotion that Pollack unobtrusively captures in Amazing Grace.

7. The Ecstasy of Wilko Johnson

HBO

An underrated figure in UK rock, Wilko Johnson was the guitarist for pioneering pub rock act Dr Feelgood. With his distinctly aggressive playing style and imposing physical presence (he played Ilyn Payne in the first few seasons of Game Of Thrones), he was hugely influential, a trailblazer.

When he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, this was unsurprisingly an eye-opener for the taciturn axeman, and he allowed Julian Temple, key documenter of UK punk, to chart his final days. Johnson faces his mortality with trademark humor and an admirable calm, reflecting on his life and his achievements, and concluding it time well spent. He embarks on a goodbye tour, rocking venues like old times, bringing together friends and collaborators to say farewell to fans and well-wishers the only way he knows how.

Then, the twist – the cancer which seemed so final suddenly goes into remission, and Wilko is given another chance – more time than he knows what to do with. The film celebrates life in all its forms, but it’s clear that Johnson will go on rocking and creating until the real final curtain.

6. The Decline Of Western Civilization Part 2

New Line Cinema

The first film in the Decline series was a relatively serious look at the often-po-faced world of hardcore punk. For the follow-up, director Penelope Spheeris cast an eye on the hair metal scene of 1980s LA, where things were a little wilder.

The documentary is a riotous look at acts famous and otherwise, from the heavyweights of the rock and metal scene to upstart bands hoping to make it as big as their idols (spoiler: none of them do). Highlights include Ozzy Osbourne making a colossal mess in his kitchen as he concentrates more on his anecdote than pouring juice into a glass, and Chris Holmes from W.A.S.P, who floats around his pool drunk off his head while his disapproving mother watches on. They put on a brave face, the folks of the scene, but many are stricken with sadness (others still are outright creeps).

While there’s the suggestion that elements of the film are a put-on, Spheeris captures an accurate portrait of one of music’s most indulgent and tacky scenes. Everyone involved is keen to show just how rock ‘n’ roll they are, and to one end up making prize fools of themselves in the process.

5. Beware Of Mr. Baker

SnagFilms

Cream drummer Ginger Baker died in 2019, and while his passing is a great blow to the world of rock and jazz, after watching this captivating documentary, you’ll be amazed a man so gnarly was even capable of death.

Director Jay Bulger traces Baker’s musical journey from South London to South Africa, where he now lives on an imposing compound. Baker’s career is a remarkable one, having pioneered a jazz/rock fusion style with Cream, traveled to Africa to drum with Fela Kuti, and kicked and taken up heroin enough times to kill most ordinary men. Ordinary Baker most definitely is not, though: he is a fascinating but utterly cantankerous individual, ultimately clashing with and physically assaulting Bulger after a line of questioning is not to his liking.

The man lived hard and fast and achieved an incredible amount, and it’s great that his life story was aired in such an engaging piece of work. Formally inventive and ever engaging, this is proof if proof be needed that the devil has the best tunes.

4. 20 Feet From Stardom

RADiUS-TWC

A celebration of some of the music business’ unsung heroes, 20 Feet From Stardom is all about putting a name to the voices you’ve heard so many times, as Morgan Neville’s Oscar-winning doc digs into the world of backing singers.

Featuring the likes of Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, and other incredible performers whose names you may not know but whose vocals you’ve certainly danced to, 20 Feet From Stardom is a melancholic look at a business that can be so rewarding, and so frustrating, all at the same time. There are incredible anecdotes from those on the periphery of the world’s biggest rockstars, and superb performances, like Clayton’s isolated vocal track from the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter”. Many of those interviewed are jobbing musicians who accept their status, but it can’t help but feel cruel that their contributions so often go uncelebrated.

With talking heads from bonafide A-listers like Bruce Springsteen, this is a star-studded production, but more than anything else it’ll give you an appreciation of the sheer physical graft that goes into the singing business. You may just be harmonizing on a chorus, but it’ll take it out of you.

3. Gimme Shelter

20th Century Fox

An era-defining documentary, this still-harrowing film captures The Rolling Stones at their world-conquering finest as they tour their incredible run of records between the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. It also pinpoints the moment the hippy dream died and something altogether more sinister settled into American counterculture.

Gimme Shelter serves as a concert film for a band who, at the time, may have been the world’s greatest. This ultimately pales into insignificance, however. The documentary is most famous for its recordings of the Stones’ 1969 concert at the Altamont Speedway, during which 18-year-old Meredith Hunter was fatally stabbed to death by a member of the Hell’s Angels, who the UK rockers had hired as their tour security. Co-directors Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin adopt a hands-off approach to their film making, simply observing the chaos that unfolds as a peaceful scene turns ugly.

The ‘60s ended literally and metaphorically around the time of Altamont, but if there are lessons to be learned, it’s a stroke of luck that there was a camera there to record the destruction.

2. Don’t Look Back

Leacock-Pennebaker, Inc.

D. A. Pennebaker’s 1967 masterpiece invented the rock doc and the myth of Bob Dylan in one fell swoop. Following the Nobel prize-winning songwriter on his 1965 UK tour, the documentary was one of the first opportunities an audience had to watch a rock star simply exist in his natural environment.

As a subject, Dylan couldn’t have been much better. He is riding the crest of a wave, writing and playing some of the best music of his career, and coming to the tumultuous end of his relationship with Joan Baez. He is captivating but unprecious with his public image: indeed there are moments in which he acts like a real jerk, one-upping Donovan with a bravura performance just because he can, and needlessly abusing a poor jobbing journalist. The opening scenes serve as a music video for the track Subterranean Homesick Blues, another of the film’s groundbreaking moments.

Dylan has been documented and hagiographed half to death by now, but Pennebaker’s passive camera catches him in the flesh, and at a pivotal point of an incredible career. Taking aside all it influenced, it remains a superb piece of work.

1. Dig!

Interloper Films

A friendly rivalry turns into an all-out indie war in Ondi Timoner’s wild documentary. The director shot over 10,000 hours of footage as two upstart bands, The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre, came up together before dramatically falling apart.

The narrative comes down to jealousy, as the Massacre, arguably the better band, stew over their former friends’ sudden burst of success. Petty swipes turn to open hostilities as one band rises and the other turns in on itself. The subjects are fascinating, most notably Massacre frontman Anton Newcombe, whose musical talent is outstripped by his self-destructive street. He has the aura of a cult leader but the temperament of a stroppy child, and slowly alienates those around him and blows chance after chance at the big time.

Musicians from either camp have refuted the realism of the finished product, but that hardly matters when the documentary is this outrageously entertaining. Dig! may not hit as heavy as some other acclaimed rock docs, but few films can match the uproarious fun – and killer tunes – of this bonkers film.

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

Tales of Rock – Syd Barrett: How LSD Created and Destroyed His Career With Pink Floyd

An over-reliance on psychedelic drugs drove the rock star from the bounds of reality and forced his bandmates to cut ties to keep their musical dreams alive.

By the spring of 1967, Pink Floyd was at the forefront of the psychedelic rock movement that was pushing its way into mainstream popular culture.

Fronted by lead guitarist and songwriter Syd Barrett, and including bassist Roger Waters, drummer Nick Mason and organist Richard Wright, the band cracked the Top 20 in the United Kingdom with their catchy debut single, “Arnold Layne.” In May 1967, they made an indelible impression with the Games for May concert at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall, featuring a quadraphonic sound system, dazzling light show and bubble-generating machine.

As described in Crazy Diamond: Syd Barrett and the Dawn of Pink Floyd, the band was fueled by the creativity of its frontman, known for his cryptic lyrics that mixed mysticism and wordplay, and an experimental guitar style that made use of echo machines and other distortions.

Sadly, the same forces that drove Barrett to artistic breakthroughs also led him down the path of self-destruction, leaving him exiled from the group shortly after they arrived on the charts and rendering him a cautionary tale as Pink Floyd became one of the biggest bands in the world.

Barrett found inspiration through LSD usage
Syd Barrett Pink Floyd

Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd perform in 1966

Photo: Adam Ritchie/Redferns

In 1965, as the foursome that became Pink Floyd were finding their musical footing between classes at London’s Regent Street Polytechnic and Camberwell College of Arts, Barrett had discovered the mind-altering effects of LSD.

The turn to psychedelics had a massive impact on the group’s direction. Taking their cues from their frontman, Pink Floyd began doing away with the R&B covers that were being imitated by countless other bands from the era and embracing original sounds. And the highly intelligent Barrett, already known for marching to his own peculiar beat, began heavily ingesting LSD and producing song lyrics that were seemingly pulled from unknown realms of the cosmos.

It was that combination of original music, stage presentation and lyrical prowess that captured the attention of record companies in the first place, but by the time Pink Floyd was being presented as the next big thing in British rock, Barrett was already losing his tenuous grasp on reality through his incessant drug use.

His old friend and eventual replacement David Gilmour noticed as much when he dropped by the Chelsea Studios in May 1967 for the recording of the band’s second single, “See Emily Play.”

“Syd didn’t seem to recognize me and just stared back,” Gilmour recalled in Crazy Diamond. “I got to know that look pretty well and I’ll go on record as saying that was when he changed. It was a shock. He was a different person.”

The band’s initial success gave way to uneasiness over Barrett’s behavior

Despite the mounting worries about their friend’s mental health, Pink Floyd was thriving. “See Emily Play” became a bigger hit than “Arnold Layne,” reaching No. 6 on the British charts.

Furthermore, Barrett had delivered a string of brilliant songs for the group’s debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. “Chapter 24” was inspired by I Ching, the ancient Chinese text, “Astronomy Domine” and “Interstellar Overdrive” became emblematic of the group’s atmospheric sound and “Bike” showcased its writer’s willingness to embrace the absurd.

However, it wasn’t long after Piper landed in record stores in early August 1967 that Barrett’s deteriorating state began causing headaches for his bandmates. Later that month, it was reported that the drug-addled frontman was suffering from “nervous exhaustion,” forcing the group to cancel its planned appearance at the National Jazz and Blues Festival.

By the time the band departed for a U.S. tour in the fall, it was clear that Barrett’s public presence was becoming a major problem. He stood on stage, detuning his guitar, during a gig at the Fillmore West in San Francisco, and stared catatonically at the hosts during appearances on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand and The Pat Boone Show. Alarmed, the band’s managers aborted the tour to avoid additional embarrassing incidents.

Syd Barrett

Syd Barrett

Photo: Andrew Whittuck/Redferns

Barrett’s ongoing unpredictability forced the band to replace him

Meanwhile, Barrett was under pressure to produce a successful follow-up single to “See Emily Play.” “Scream Thy Last Scream” and “Vegetable Man” were deemed too dark for release, and while “Apples and Oranges” finally got the go-ahead in mid-November, it lacked the catchiness of its predecessors and flopped.

The group headed out for a U.K. tour around this time, with Barrett causing more tension by either refusing to exit the tour bus at gigs or walking off before the start of a show. Following a disastrous appearance at a Christmas concert, the band reached out to Gilmour, then fronting another struggling group called Jokers Wild.

Entering 1968 with intentions of continuing as a five-piece band, Pink Floyd tried an arrangement in which Barrett would remain on board as a behind-the-scenes songwriter, before abandoning the idea of dealing with him altogether. By March 1968, Barrett was no longer with the band he co-founded and pushed to prominence.

Within a few years, the remaining members of Pink Floyd were being celebrated as arena rock gods while Barrett’s own musical career was finished, and he spent the rest of his life away from the public eye. His presence on the group’s quirky early records serving as a reminder for what could have been a long and successful career for a unique, gifted artist.

Even though he was no longer a member, Barrett still had an impact on Pink Floyd, and the band’s ninth studio album, Wish You Were Here, was recorded as a tribute to their co-founder.

Tales of Rock – SPECIAL REPORT – Phil Spector Dead at 81

Legendary music producer Phil Spector — who was convicted in 2009 of murdering actress Lana Clarkson — died Saturday at age 81. His death was announced Sunday by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, which said that he had died of natural causes. His official cause of death is yet to be determined.

Spector produced some of the greatest recordings of the 20th century, working with Stevie WonderThe Beach BoysThe Beatles and many others.

Back in 2009, NPR reported about Spector’s murder conviction for shooting an actress named Lana Clarkson. Spector had vanished from the music industry for decades and had not completed an album since the 1970s.

Shortly before the shooting that led to Phil Spector’s arrest, journalist Mick Brown taped the reclusive producer’s first interview in years.

“Almost as soon as I sat down with Phil Spector, he started to talk about his mental state,” Brown told NPR in 2007.

“I have devils inside that fight me,” Spector told Brown. “And I am my own worst enemy. And for all intents and purposes, I’d say I’m probably relatively insane.”

Insanity and insecurity haunted Phil Spector’s entire life. Spector’s older sister had to be institutionalized, and his father died by suicide when the boy was nine years old. The traumatized family moved from New York to Los Angeles. Spector’s first hit song, at age 18, was inspired by the inscription on his father’s grave: “To know him is to love him.”

Spector sang in the background of that song, harmonizing with The Teddy Bears. His perfect pitch and knack for a melody soon made Spector an A-list producer. He was only 21 when he co-founded his label.

“Every Phil Spector session was a party,” session drummer Hal Blaine recalled in an interview with WHYY’s Fresh Air in 2001. “He used to be in the booth and he’d run back and forth, like he was conducting a symphony, and use certain symphonic movements, the way a conductor would do. Certain times he would look at me and he would say, ‘Now’ — which meant, ‘Go for it.’ ”

Spector’s trademark “wall of sound” propels “Be My Baby,” the hit song performed by The Ronettes. The group’s lead singer, Ronnie Spector, married her producer.

She told NPR in 1990 their songs were love letters. “We always rehearsed them alone,” Ronnie Spector said, “so we had this romance between my singing and him teaching me. It was like the best feeling in the world.”

Those feelings began to be spiked by abuse. Spector wouldn’t let her wear shoes in the house for fear she would run away. He bought a glass-lidded coffin in which he threatened to display her if she left. Still, Spector produced an extraordinary string of hits, too many to name.

But the song he considered his personal masterpiece, “River Deep — Mountain High,” performed by Ike and Tina Turner never achieved the success he expected.

By the 1970s, Spector’s career was in shambles. He produced the legendary Concert For Bangladesh. But Mick Brown says his mounting obsession with guns signaled a psychic free-fall.

“He was drinking very heavily,” Brown says. “He wasn’t a man in control of himself. He’d even wear guns on the phones with record executives — in order to give himself a bit of an edge, it seemed, over the telephone.” When Phil Spector produced the 1980 Ramones album End Of The Century, he reportedly pulled a gun on the group in the studio.

Spector soon entered near-seclusion. He tried to record albums with Celine Dion and a British group called Starsailor, but ended up fighting with them. Music, it seems, was only a temporary balm for his pain.

“He had this one priceless gift, which was a musical ability,” Brown notes. “And he was able to create out of this gift these extraordinary records, these grandiloquent dreams of romance and love and escape, and fling those back into the face of the word. It was flinging them at his father, who killed himself; flinging at the kids who wouldn’t talk to him at school; flinging it at the record industry, who thought he was a madman. These records were Spector’s revenge.”

And they are his legacy.