AND WHAT EX­ACTLY IS A JOKE? ASK AN­DREW MALE

(from A Saucer­ful Of Se­crets, 1968)

Mojo (UK) - - The 50 Greatest Pink Floyd Songs -

It be­gins cold, no in­stru­men­tal in­tro­duc­tion, just Syd singing, in a voice some­where be­tween drowsy and sar­donic, that “It’s aw­fully con­sid­er­ate of you to think of me here/And I’m much obliged to you for mak­ing it clear that I’m not here.” In both their bel­letrist for­mal­ity and gnomic na­ture, they’re words that might have been ut­tered by the Dor­mouse or the Cheshire Cat in Bar­rett’s child­hood copy of Alice’s Ad­ven­tures In Won­der­land – a para­dox­i­cal rid­dle about ap­pear­ance and dis­ap­pear­ance. The mood is fur­ther in­vested with a non­cha­lant fragility by the bare­lythere strums of Syd’s Levin acous­tic, Roger’s baby-steps elec­tric bass, Nick Ma­son’s hi-hat taps, and Rick Wright’s recorder trills. Like many of Bar­rett’s songs, Jug­band Blues at first ap­pears de­cep­tively slight, a frag­ile cre­ation seem­ingly born in the mo­ment of first ut­ter­ance, and dis­play­ing few solid signs of au­tho­rial nut­sand-bolts ‘crafts­man­ship’. As with a child’s nurs­ery rhyme, the song’s first third floats in a limbo of the eter­nal present, un­spool­ing hor­i­zon­tally, shift­ing char­ac­ter from the in­no­cently ro­man­tic (“And I never knew the moon could be so big”) to deeply dis­turbed (“and I’m won­der­ing who could be writ­ing this song”) to a kind of naive re­solve in the sec­ond verse (“I don’t care if the sun don’t shine… I’ll do my lov­ing in the win­ter”). It may mean noth­ing. Then again, it may mean ev­ery­thing. The base track was recorded at De Lane Lea Stu­dios in the sec­ond week of Oc­to­ber 1967, a pe­riod of “re­lent­lessly un­set­tled” weather, ac­cord­ing to the Met Of­fice, when Syd was liv­ing at 101 Cromwell Road with his girl­friend, Lind­say Cor­ner, and a hand­ful of acid-fried acolytes. Tir­ing of pop fame, be­sieged by groupies and hang­ers-on, dos­ing on LSD, Bar­rett was, like the Cheshire Cat, grad­u­ally dis­ap­pear­ing from view, leav­ing be­hind a look of blank res­ig­na­tion. So, while it’s easy to read Syd’s fi­nal Floyd song as a por­trait of acid-fried crack-up, mightn’t it also be a wet au­tumn ab­di­ca­tion, from a band mem­ber si­mul­ta­ne­ously “here” and “not here” to a band he no longer felt a part of: I’m off, I’ll do my lov­ing in the win­ter, and who’s writ­ing this song any­way? Of the Sal­va­tion Army-band-and-ka­zoo in­ter­lude that ar­rives at around 1:10, Bar­rett ap­par­ently told pro­ducer Nor­man Smith that the mu­si­cians should play “what they like”, the pos­si­bil­ity be­ing that it just didn’t mat­ter any more. Or maybe Syd wanted to bid farewell to the Floyd on a note of par­o­dic anar­chy, be­cause what’s more ‘late 1967’ than a Sal­va­tion Army Band play­ing what they want? What to make of it all? Surely the last line must go to Syd: “And what ex­actly is a dream/And what ex­actly is a joke?” His time in Pink Floyd had been both.

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