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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Finally, news today that the co-founder of the influential British rock band Pink Floyd is dead. Syd Barrett was 60 years old. With Roger Waters, he formed Pink Floyd in the mid-60s. By the end of that decade, though, his erratic behavior forced the band to ditch Syd Barrett as guitarist. More now from musician and DAY TO DAY contributor David Was.

DAVID WAS reporting:

Syd Barrett has passed away at the age of 60, but his rapid descent from proto-guitar God to victim of psychedelic drug-enhanced madness set the course for other, more untimely passings: Hendrix and Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin.

Barrett may have had a propensity to mental illness without his legendary use of LSD, but it certainly helped hasten his demise, both as an artist and as a man.

(Soundbite of music)

WAS: Pink Floyd got its name from two blues records in Barrett's collection, and he was largely behind the band's reputation for sonic daring and jazz-like flights of free interplay.

(Soundbite of music)

PINK FLOYD (Rock Band): (Singing) Emily tries, but misunderstands.

WAS: Like The Beatles and Stones, they began being devoted to American R&B, but with Syd's influence dominating on their first album in 1967 - The Piper at the Gates of Dawn - they carved out a psychedelic gothic aesthetic that would provide a huge influence for the rest of British and American rock over the years.

(Soundbite of music)

WAS: Most of Pink Floyd's expanding vision was owed to Syd Barrett, both musically and lyrically, as he penned 10 of the 11 tracks on their debut album and began experimenting with the newly mutable sounds of a processed and manipulated electric guitar.

Barrett was known for using a Zippo lighter or ball bearings on the fret board to coax otherworldly sounds from the instrument that changed the face of pop music over and over, with no small debt to Pink Floyd.

But all would tear asunder in fall from grace that was so precipitous, it makes Brian Wilson's career look undramatic by comparison. By mid-1967, Barrett was beginning to step to his own inner rhythm, playing one song while the band played another on stage, and coming unglued during an American tour.

One apocryphal tale has him smearing his hair with gel laced with barbiturates, which then melted under the stage lights and sent Syd flying to a region of his mind he would never quite return from.

(Soundbite of song, "Wish You Were Here")

PINK FLOYD: (Singing) So you think you can tell...

WAS: While Pink Floyd went on to create hit after hit, Syd Barrett returned to his mother's home near Cambridge and lived his life as a recluse, reportedly doing some writing and painting large, abstract canvases. But his influence on a generation of guitarists and record makers was immense, from Pete Townshend and Eric Clapton, to Smashing Pumpkins and R.E.M., who covered several of his songs. Syd Barrett's life and work make mere meteors seem like eternal stars. His rise and fall a sad symbol of great promise gone unfulfilled.

(Soundbite of music)

CHADWICK: DAY TO DAY contributing writer, David Was.

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