We interview Have You Got It Yet? director Roddy Bogawa to discuss the process of making the Syd Barrett documentary and his connection to Pink Floyd.
Have You Got It Yet? The Story of Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd was directed by Roddy Bogawa and Storm Thorgerson. The documentary centers around Syd Barrett, the founder and short-lived frontman of the iconic rock band Pink Floyd. Through various interviews, clips, and recreations, we’re told the story of Syd’s upbringing, how he helped form Pink Floyd, and his mental decline that led him to being ousted from the band early into its life.
It was enough of a privilege to get to watch this tasteful, earnest documentary as lover of Pink Floyd, but I also got to sit down with Roddy Bogawa to discuss his history and connections to Pink Floyd, what drove him to take on this project, and how he views the legacy of Syd Barrett and what others take from it. Read the interview!
THE BIRTH AND PRODUCTION OF HAVE YOU GOT IT YET?
How did you get into Pink Floyd, and what made you want to make a documentary about Syd Barrett?
Roddy Bogawa: In high school, my friends and I were into rock. That was the moment of vinyl records. We were listening to Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple, and Pink Floyd was in that that group. The first live rock concert I went to was Pink Floyd, on their Animals tour, and then I got hooked on seeing live shows. I even saw their The Wall tour twice in Los Angeles. Many years after that, I did a movie about my time in LA, which was composed by a great musician friend of mine named Chris Brokaw. He said he was just at Storm Thorgerson Studio, and I said I had no idea who that was. He explained that Thorgerson was a graphic artist who owned the company Hipgnosis, which did most of Pink Floyd’s record covers. He showed me a photo Hipgnosis had taken by digging steps down into a sandy beach, and I couldn’t shake the image out of my brain.
So, I bought a book about them, and I freaked out over how many covers Hipgnosis had done when I was a kid. It got me obsessed with the idea of who this guy was who shaped my teen psyche so much. I ended up making a film on Storm, with Chris composing the score and me getting my old records back to study for the film. All of a sudden, music started coming back into my filmmaking process after doing other narrative films. Then, one day, we screened that film in LA, and Rob Dickinson of the band Catherine Wheel said to Storm that I should do a proper film about Syd Barrett.
Storm said to let me know if I wanted to direct that, since he knew everybody that would have to be involved. I wasn’t planning on doing back-to-back Pink Floyd projects, but everybody in Pink Floyd was really supportive of my film on Storm. Storm being allowed in the Syd film allowed us to have a certain kind of access to people and a certain intimacy with the interviews. It’s been great, and they’ve all been so supportive of me and the film.
Was there anyone that you wanted to get for this documentary, but you couldn’t?
R. B.: One interview that I was trying to get was with David Bowie. I had some mutual friends through the management and him directly, and I got word back that he was interested but busy. In hindsight, that was when he was doing Blackstar, and he was dying at that moment, so there was a real urgency there. I was really hoping to get an interview with him, because he’d talked about how important Syd was as a character to his early performances. So that was one that I was kind of sad about. Luckily, my producer’s very good friends with Pete Townsend, who said, “I wanna be in the film, Roddy!” Pete had taken Eric Clapton to see Syd at the UFO Club, so that became the first-person recollection of Syd playing live instead of David Bowie.
Then there was a great, interesting musician that I like quite a lot, Julian Cope, who was in the band The Teardrop Explodes. And I thought that he, in some way, was one of the Syd Barrett type of characters that was similar to him creatively and artistically. I was curious to interview Julian and tried to get in touch with him through different ways, but it never happened.
RODDY BOGAWA ’S FAVORITE PINK FLOYD SONGS
Do you have a favorite Pink Floyd song?
Roddy Bogawa: Oh god, I would have to choose one from each era of Pink Floyd. That’s a really hard question. In the Syd era, I love the really silly, weird songs like The Gnome, Effervescing Elephant, and Flaming. As for the post-Syd early period, I quite like the stuff on Meddle. And of course, I’ve always loved the music on Dark Side and Shine On You Crazy Diamond. And then for the later work, The Wall has great tracks such as Mother. I couldn’t say there was one Pink Floyd song that’s my favorite.
TELLING SYD BARRETT’S STORY
Do you think this documentary illustrates how certain people are talented but not made for the demands of fame, that the music business could have been more courteous to Syd, or that it’s just a blameless case of two things not going together?
Roddy Bogawa: There are other musicians, these characters, that have gone down this road. Brian Jones from the Rolling Stones, or Brian Wilson from the Beach Boys, or Kurt Cobain, had the same kind of trajectory. They have enormous talent that’s bottled up inside them, and found their creative outlets, thinking this was the way they could get these thoughts and feelings out. But then success and the machinery come in, like in the Pink Floyd song “Welcome to the Machine.” All this structure around the music business comes in. And if you look at Pink Floyd’s tour schedule, like a lot of those English bands at that time, it was crazy. There were two or three gigs in the same day sometimes. A lot of Syd’s story is exactly about that, and about the consequences once you achieve that success and you’ve made that choice in your life.
I hope that’s a universal kind of story in some ways, how everybody makes a choice in their life about what they want to pursue, and how they have this image of what success means for them. Peter Jenner, one of the band’s managers, said he doesn’t think Syd would have done any differently no matter how the system was set up. It was so much fun and very effortless at the beginning for him, but once they had these charting singles, all of a sudden, they needed to be on television, go on tour, and give up all these types of things.
And I think Syd didn’t really want to do that. I think that’s one of the things I came away with, from talking to people and making the film. He didn’t want to be in a pop band. He was hanging out and doing improvisational music before, and he didn’t want that structure. Even Pink Floyd talk about that in their music after Syd left. Parts of Dark Side of the Moon are about madness and genius, so I think they were absolutely thinking about Syd.
When people think of the rockstar decline, they think of some big, explosive spectacle. But here, it’s portrayed as some quiet fall that just sort of happened. Do you think that draws viewers more into this kind of story?
R. B.: With how nonchalantly the Floyd guys just left Syd out, Storm (who’s from Cambridge just like them) would always joke about how the English won’t insult you or confront the problem directly. So, he talks about how it’s a very Cambridge thing for the band to have done, to say they’re just not going to deal with it and know that that’s understood. But additionally, the band members were really young at that time, in their early twenties. I was in bands in high school and college, and I kicked lots of people out. We just didn’t become Pink Floyd.
I think it’s interesting how Pink Floyd became one of the biggest bands in the world, often writing about Syd, the guy who started the band, while Syd just became more obscure and more of a cult figure. He does two and a half records, but then he just lives his existence for 25 years. Whether it was happy or not isn’t entirely clear, but he doesn’t die young or burn out like in other stories. He doesn’t go that way of the big explosive downfall.
WHAT SYD WOULD THINK OF HAVE YOU GOT IT YET?
What do you think Syd Barret would have thought about this movie if he were alive to see it today?
Roddy Bogawa: I hope that Syd would think it’s respectful in every way, and that it’s reenforcing some of his cult icon status. You don’t want to dethrone the cult icon. But I hope he also thinks it’s trying to be honest and respectful about his life. It’s a film about a person, and I won’t name names unless you force me to, but I don’t like those documentaries that exploit the decline of the person to try and use it as dramatic plot points. I hate those kinds of movies, because I think they’re very vampiric. Especially if the person’s gone, I don’t think that’s very fair. So, I hope Syd wouldn’t think that about this movie. The Ghost of Syd Past has not shown up, so I knock on wood that it’s gone over well. His family likes the film very much.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Have You Got It Yet? will have a limited theatrical release in the US on July 14 (NY) and July 21 (LA), with additional cities to be announced. The film was released in UK cinemas on May 15. Read our review of Have You Got It Yet?.