It’s rare that artists write their own goodbye, but that’s how Pink Floyd’s Jugband Blues has always sounded to me.
The song was the only one credited to him on the band’s second album, after he had dominated the credits on Piper at the Gates of Dawn.
It is tempting to read too much into the song, to assume Syd knew how the drugs and his apparent mental illness (he was never diagnosed), and thus chronicled that, as well as the reaction of those around him to his deteriorating state.
There is a sense of relief in Syd’s lyrics, that other people have to grapple with excusing his absence, and he conveys a sense of peace at the thought of no possessions or changes in the weather.
But the chaos of the Salvation Army band section makes it clear that he isn’t well.
And the final lines, wherein he wonders what a dream is and what a joke is, are sad ones, as if he is experiencing an existential crisis.
Jugband Blues was tucked away at the end of A Saucerful of Secrets, the last Barrett song to appear on a Pink Floyd album, so if it was not a kind of goodbye from him, it certainly seemed that the band had positioned it to reflect the end of an era.
Members of the band would help Syd record two solo albums, and after some other ill-fated attempts to form another band and produce a third album, he retreated to his mother’s house in Cambridge, where he mainly remained until his death in 2006.
But Jugband Blues, much like Syd’s other songs, remains to be wrestled with, to meditate over like a koan.
Or more like a dream, or a joke.