Mick Rock’s best photograph: Syd Barrett on a Pontiac Parisienne

‘Syd Barrett swopped his Mini for this Pontiac. But it was too massive to drive and eventually got towed’

I was meant to go and shoot Syd Barrett upstairs in his flat, but when I saw this car outside I thought: “Fuck it – I need to take pictures of that, too.” It was an incredible prop to have plonked there. If I recall correctly, it was a Pontiac Parisienne, a push-button convertible, and it was pink. Mickey Finn, who became the bongo-player for T-Rex, had picked it up at an auction, and Syd had swopped his Mini for it. But he didn’t have a clue how to drive this massive American car, and it basically didn’t work anyway. You can see the back wheel is a bit wonky. Eventually, it got towed.

It was autumn 1969, and I was over at Earls Court trying to get shots for the cover of Syd’s first solo album, The Madcap Laughs. He had an amazing look: a beautiful burnt-out rock’n’roller. I think he looked better than he ever did in Pink Floyd. He was probably the hippest thing out there, as far as England was concerned. He had basically just rolled out of bed, shaken his head, put a bit of kohl on, and gotten dressed. There were no stylists, no assistants – who had money for that? Iggy the Eskimo just did whatever makeup he needed around the eyes. I think that’s why lots of pictures from the 60s and 70s look so authentic: they weren’t styled by anybody.

Iggy the Eskimo was a girl who was just passing through. You’ve got to remember the time. We’re talking about high hippy days, sexual revolution, young people romping. It was all LSD, hashish and free love. This period produced a lot of innovation, a lot of characters who were highly creative, and I’m sure the LSD had something to do with it. I certainly wouldn’t have been a photographer if I hadn’t taken LSD. I was in the middle of an acid trip the first time I picked up a camera. It turned out there wasn’t any film in it, but it was an amazing experience, and it inspired me to start taking pictures.

This was a very early session. I was 19, but everyone was young back then. I don’t think any of us knew anybody over 25. It was a completely different world: the idea of Mick Jagger prancing about on stage at the age of 72 would have seemed ludicrous, even to him.

Syd was a painter really. He’d been to art school. That’s why his music was so unique, because he thought like a painter – and he carried on painting for the rest of his life. One of the reasons why people love him so much is because they only know the bare facts of his life, since he gave so few interviews. I actually did the last one with him in 1971, after he had retreated back to his mum’s house in Cambridge. People think he went mad, but I never did. He was a total original, very hard to get a grip on, and that adds to the mystique. But the bottom line is that he was a very sweet guy and he was my friend.


Interview by Karin Andreasson

The GuardianTramp

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