From mid to late 1967. Syd’s erratic behaviour was becoming more and more apparent, and not only did it effect the band but it also served as a prelude to his eventual breakdown. Large quantities of LSD proved to be his undoing and at the peak of London’s summer of love, in August 1967. when Pink Floyd’s debut album was released, Syd had obviously gone a step into madness. The outcome was that his main contribution on the second album was a song Jugband blues, compared to the first album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn where almost all the songs where written by Barrett.
However, at the time they were recording their second album A Saucerful of Secrets, Syd had come up with three songs; Jugband Blues, Scream Thy Last Scream and Vegetable Man, of which only Jugband Blues was featured on the album while the two others were recorded but discarded for they were deemed ‘too dark and disturbing’. Pink Floyd’s manager, Peter Jenner, wishes the song was released. He said: ‘I always thought they should be put out, so I let my copies be heard. I knew that Roger would never let them out, or Dave. They somehow felt they were a bit indecent, like putting out nude pictures of a famous actress: it just wasn’t cricket. But I thought they were good songs and great pieces of art. They’re disturbing, and not a lot of fun, but they’re some of Syd’s finest work – though God knows, I wouldn’t wish anyone to go through what he’s gone through to get to those songs. They’re like Van Gogh.’
Though dark, this song stands as a reminder of Syd’s state of mind at the time; a recording of Syd’s monumental breakdown as an artist and as a person. Lyrics are chilling and express alienation from the band and rest of the world. Syd felt lost and lonely where ever he went. (I’ve been looking all over the place for a place for me/ But it ain’t anywhere/ It just ain’t anywhere.) A vegetable man is Syd himself, and, just like a scarecrow (from the first album) Syd can’t seem to find a place for himself (It’s what you see/ It must be me/ It’s what I am/ Vegetable Man.)
In my opinion, the song should have been released for it brilliantly captures the fleeting optimism and hedonism of ’60s London and, in a way, it stands as a document not just to Syd’s downfall but to ’60s downfall. Vegetable Man is a prelude to Syd’s debut solo album The Madcap Laughs where the themes of loneliness, alienation and sadness would be even more elaborated. Musically the song is striking as well, and my favourite part is where Syd sings Ha, ha ha ha, ha ha ha and you can hear the echo; I love how noisy and distorted the sound is in general. It sounds spooky and haunting at the same time because after this part comes the chilling confession about not finding a place for himself (It ain’t anywhere/ It just ain’t anywhere.)
However, the name of the song, Vegetable Man, is based on a 1572. painting Summer by an Italian painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo who created imaginative portraits made entirely of vegetables, fruits, flowers, fish, tree roots and books. His original approach to portrait painting is impressive, especially if we considered that he lived in the sixteenth century. His paintings were based on elements and seasons, but the painting Summer was the one that intrigued Syd the most while he was still in Camberwell College of Arts. Summer featured a composite man made from intricate painted vegetables; a vegetable man, if you will. Syd even appeared in a promotional photo with spring onions tied to his head, a knowing wink to Arcimboldo, not to mention Rene Magritte’s Son of Man.