Musicians are, almost by definition, exhibitionist types — given to loud costumes, flashy spectacles, well-publicized romances, and various publicity stunts. But how about the exceptions that prove the rule, those recluses who have always made their music in seclusion, shied away from performing, or retreated to a shack in the middle of nowhere after years of fame? You may question what’s driven them away from the adoration of millions, but in the end, you also have to respect them for refusing to cash in and feed tabloid culture.
In fact, December has been a big month for these mysterious iconoclasts, what with Neutral Milk Hotel’s Jeff Mangum showing up to perform a set in Brooklyn and Lauryn Hill announcing a string of tour dates. After the jump, we take a look at the careers of some of music’s most reclusive artists, from Syd Barrett and Scott Walker to Hill and Mangum.
Unless your parents are really awesome, the Pink Floyd music they love so much probably involves lots of guitar solos and overwrought lyrical metaphors. Things were not always this way. In the band’s earliest years, they played odd, wonderful psychedelic music, the best of which appears on their 1967 debut, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. But then Barrett, who was doing a lot of acid, got really weird, and started pulling weird stunts onstage. He was out of the band by the time Pink Floyd’s sophomore release, A Saucerful of Secrets, dropped the next year.
Barrett hung on for a short solo career, putting out two albums comprised mostly of unreleased material from the mid-’60s while beginning his retreat from public life. The first of these, 1970′s palpably paranoid and idiosyncratic The Madcap Laughs, is an object of worship for Barrett’s cultish fans.
After a few more fits, starts, and failed bands, Barrett fled to Cambridge to live with his mother. Aside from a short-lived stint in London, he stayed there until his death in 2006. Although he stopped releasing new material in the ’70s and fell ill in later life, the media and obsessive fans stalked Barrett mercilessly as he tried to go about his quiet life of making art and gardening. Experts and amateurs alike continue to debate whether or not he was schizophrenic, bipolar, or afflicted by some other mental illness.