The classic rock legends who died young are unfortunately numerous: Hendrix, Joplin, Cobain. Syd Barrett, a founder of Pink Floyd, lived to be 60 — hardly a ripe old age. But his artistic death, a protracted one, happened in his 20s, and he had become a recluse before he turned 30.
The documentary “Have You Got It Yet? (The Story of Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd)” is long in the making — its co-director, Storm Thorgerson, an acclaimed album designer and a friend of Barrett’s, died in 2013 — but it’s as comprehensive and coherent an account of Barrett’s counterculture tragedy as one could hope for. And while the film, co-directed by Roddy Bogawa, illuminates Barrett to a greater degree than any other account I’ve come across, it maintains the artist’s enigma.
Not out of romanticizing him; as enigmas go, Barrett was the real deal. In his brief public tenure as the face of Pink Floyd, Barrett didn’t overtly put out a messianic line like other rock stars of the era. But he was innately magnetic. David Gilmour, who took the guitar duties in Pink Floyd after Barrett could no longer function, was, like the other band members, a friend of Barrett’s from the early ’60s. He calls the man “fiercely intelligent” and says that, before Barrett was ravaged by drug abuse and mental illness, “life was just too easy for him, in a way.”
He wrote songs about underwear snatchers, gnomes and the solar system. (Post-Barrett, Floyd became more grandiose, socially conscious and commercially huge.) His psychedelia had a strain of Edwardian whimsy, until it didn’t; one of his last Floyd songs was called “Scream Thy Last Scream” and it wasn’t kidding. The film intersperses frank talking head interviews — Thorgerson, whose company helped craft Floyd’s album covers, is, after all, speaking to his friends and collaborators here — with surreal allegoric scenes both trippy and dire. Barrett’s slide into acid casualty is heartbreaking, yet the man was so singular that one has to call this cautionary tale unique.
Have You Got It Yet? The Story of Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd
Not Rated. Running time: 1 hour 34 minutes. In theaters.