People talk a lot of trash about Yoko. I’ve done my share, and there are reasons for that; I don’t necessarily take it all back. But there is no doubt that when she came along, she lit a fire under John’s ass. B.Y. (Before Yoko), John tended to spend long periods of time wandering around his house and watching TV in various states of wastedness.

But at this point, a little more than a month A.Y., the two of them had already made an album, planted acorns for peace, and created “Revolution 9.” Today they opened their first joint art exhibition, “You Are Here (To Yoko from John Lennon, with Love),” at the Robert Fraser Gallery in London. “At the launch ceremony,” says The Beatles Bible,

Lennon and Ono released 365 white helium-filled balloons over London. Lennon proclaimed “I declare these balloons high.”

Attached to each balloon was a card reading “You are here” on one side. The other side gave the address of the gallery and asked the finder to return the card. Those who did got a letter back saying:

Dear Friend, Thank you very much for writing and sending me my balloon back. I’m sending you a badge just to remind you that you are here. Love, John Lennon.

It was not all love, though. Apparently many of the cards were returned defaced with nasty comments about Yoko, some with a distinct racial thrust. Thank goodness there was no internet back then.

After the opening they headed to Abbey Road, where Paul had been adding a bassline to “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey.” John then recorded a lead vocal (not the one used in the final version), and reduction mixes were made to create room for further (future) overdubs.

But for the music fan of 1968, access to any new Beatle material was still a long way off; it would be necessary to find something else to listen to in the meantime. One option was Pink Floyd’s second album, A Saucerful of Secrets, released today.

A lot had changed in the 10 months since the appearance of the Floyd’s debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Most significant was the gradual disintegration of the band’s lead singer and chief songwriter, Roger Keith “Syd” Barrett. As with many such cases, it’s hard to be sure which came first, the mental illness or the heavy drugs; but over a period of months his status changed from “up-and-coming psychedelic revolutionary” to “walking cautionary tale.”

Somewhere in late 1967 Barrett disappeared for a long weekend and is said to have returned as “a completely different person” with a “blank, dead-eyed stare.” After this he increasingly declined to participate in band activities. During concerts, he would stand onstage, refusing to sing or touch his guitar; when the band appeared on TV, Barrett wouldn’t lip-sync or respond to questions posed to him. (Drummer Nick Mason was once moved to comment, “Syd wasn’t into moving his lips that day.”)

In December 1967 the Floyd added a fifth member, David Gilmour. Initially the idea was that Barrett would continue with the band as a non-touring songwriter, but that didn’t work out so well. The story of Syd Barrett’s final session with Pink Floyd is often told, but blog The Bigfoot Diaries does a good job:

Barrett came into what would be their last rehearsal session together with a new song. He was calling it, “Have You Got It Yet?,”  and the first couple times they ran through it, it seemed simple enough. Soon the band realized that the song wasn’t simple at all – Barrett would change the melody and the arrangement constantly with each new practice run – slightly at first, but more and more each time they played it. Barrett would play it again for them, with the capricious structure changes, and each time he would ask, “Have you got it yet?”

When he realized that Barrett was fucking with them, bassist Roger Waters set down his axe and walked out of the studio. Though he would later call Barrett’s prank  “a real act of mad genius,” they never played together again.

In the end A Saucerful of Secrets contained only one Syd Barrett composition, “Jugband Blues,” which had been written and recorded back in October 1967. Its first lines go like this:

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

And that would seem to be that; exit Syd stage left. Except that Barrett would end up making two brilliant, bizarre, absolutely unique solo albums, often aided and abetted by his ex-bandmates Waters and Gilmour. But that is another story for another time.

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