“Matilda Mother” by Pink Floyd, Released August 4th, 1967
Rick Wright doesn’t get nearly enough credit in the surprisingly narrow-minded Pink Floyd universe. Much like the giant monolith albums they created, there are certain unflinching myths and “facts” that must be sworn to if you’re looking to break into this particular Reddit Sub, and one of the largest of these is that Syd Barrett was the only “too sensitive for this world” wide open viaduct to the Gods trapped within a band and management team oiled up for universal domination. And yet if you simply replace the “schizophrenia” of “borderline schizophrenia” with “Asperger’s” then you have something very close to this pretty, pouty organist who not only contributed greatly to the “oh so far out” paisley majesty of the band’s looks but also proved quick and deadly with the psychedelic-era Day-Glo songwriting pen whenever it was passed his way along with the spliff, mate. This makes “Matilda Mother” a thrilling pairing of two angel-headed stick figure pop stars with serious mental issues, and it’s a shame Syd didn’t seem to recognize a perfect songwriting foil when he saw one.
Over The Borderline: Rick and Syd
There’s always a lot of jive about “atmosphere” within the ultra-cliched world of music writing, but there’s really no way of getting around it here. I blame Rick Wright for this. His gloaming voice on these verses comes on like one of those unforgiving, chilly London dawns where just a glance out the window makes one wish to sink into a couch and a glowing screen and a cuppa’ forevermore. For if you were to venture outside onto those grimy cobblestones, let’s say to sit down in a foggy, empty park or take a solitary stroll down a stately, still lane, then this is the voice that would haunt you.
With silver eyes the scarlet eagle
Showers silver on the people
It’s interesting that our Syd would have tossed off these key lines to his organist to sing, either just another eccentric blip or a sign of outsider blood brother recognition, but either way Wright handles the task with the meticulousness it deserves. It’s kind of eerie how similar Wright’s voice sounds to the “unhinged but trying” moans of solo-era Syd, especially considering those mythical wailings were still six years into the future void. This shows some incredible interpretation skills on Rick’s part, pairing Syd’s lyrics down to an essence even the writer was, at the time at least, still chasing. It’s when the mic is passed to Syd on the myth-maker of a bridge that we are blessed with a potent dose of the prime manchild confusion Barrett was already becoming famous for:
Why’d’ya have to leave me there
Hanging in my infant air
You only have to read the lines
They’re scribbly black and everything (shines)
Five lines. 25 words. And contained within these economical boundaries are the gilded keys to the Barrett universe, the central themes that pushed the entirety of his catalog into orbit: Abandonment, the child mind, signals and messages easy to see but hard to interpret, confused commandments, and all that waiting, waiting, waiting.
Everything comes into widescreen focus when Barrett comes crashing in to duet on the choruses, a syrupy but potent oozing of melody that the rest of Pink Floyd obviously took note of, given that they used this same template for nearly all of their choruses all the way through Dark Side and Wall, echoes of the two wild cards they banished from the deck and to the background early on in their career. It’s an absolute treat to hear their voices paired here, swelling with the rising dual organ lines.
Wandering and dreaming
The words have different meaning
Yes they did
And then comes 1:24 when the whole thing goes haywire like it only could on Piper At The Gates. A sigh kicks off the breakdown, a sigh that somehow sounds confrontational, almost like a hiss, then an old-timey rock n’ roll Syd riff breaks through the chasm followed by Wright on a psychedelic organ break for the ages. These two are continuing their duet, only now on their chosen instruments, and gleefully leading their creation into chaos and ruin. Although the whole unwieldy enterprise eventually recovers and transitions into a gentle-enough outro, it’s a singular thrill hearing Syd and Rick stomping all over their carefully crafted creation, and if you close your eyes you can see the horrified looks upon the faces of the engineers at Abbey Road that day.
Although it may not even be in the top five Piper tracks, on its own Matilda Mother is not only a fine snapshot of Syd at the height of his mischievous pop powers but also highlights the blood brother that never was, Rick Wright, and makes a true fan wonder what might have been if Syd was not so insular and had tried to collaborate more with the like-minded journeyers of his time.