Wednesday, December 18, 2013

On the Connection between Syd Barrett & Some Financial Pundits


The 60s were wild, enthralling, and revolutionary but just as often simply weird and stupid. Take "Syd" Barrett, the founder, frontman, and indeed inspiration, for rock legends, Pink Floyd. He propelled something innovative, gained notoriety when doing weird stuff was viewed as virtuous. Yet, much of what he personally created has not, in all honesty, survived the test of time. It was, in the main, school-boy playtime under the influence of copious amounts of LSD (itself no crime at the time) that might have entertained himself and those similarly dosed (including record producers and music consumers at the time) but which with hindsight sounds as disassociated and unlistenable as Barrett was wigged out. Needless to remind anyone, Pink Floyd (ex-Barrett) went on to create dramatic lasting electro-psychedelic-rock - most (though not all) of which, far from bering gratuitously-self-indulgant, was sparse, contemplative, and has contrary to Barrett's Pink Floyd, has, until now, survived the test of time.

Yet "Syd" Barrett certainly had his moments of brilliance and lucidity such as the little ditty known as "Bob Dylan Blues" (youtube insert above left and a must-listen) which he wrote upon the rise of Dylan-mania in 1965. NINETEEN-SIXTY-FIVE!!! He (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) sized-up Dylan with such clarity, it is hard to believe that Barrett lost it so completely and totally just a few laters later.
Got the Bob Dylan blues
And the Bob Dylan shoes
And my clothes and my hair's in a mess
But you know I just couldn't care less

Gonna write me a song
'bout what's right and what's wrong
Got God and my girl and all that;
Quiet while I make like a cat

Cause I'm a poet,
doncha know it
And the wind -
you can blow it
Cause I'm Mr. Dylan the king
And I'm free as a bird on the wing

Roam from town to town,
get to get people down
But I don't care too much about that
Cause my gut and my wallet are fat

Make a whole lot of dough
but I deserve it though
I got soul and a good heart of gold
So I'll sing about war and the cold

Cause I'm a poet,
doncha know it
And the wind -
you can blow it
Cause I'm Mr. Dylan the king
And I'm free as a bird on the wing

Well I sings about dreams
and I rhymes it with seams
Cause it seems that my dream always means
That I can prophesy all kinds of things

Well the guy that digs me
Should try hard to see
That he buys all my discs in a hat.
And when I'm in town go see that.

Cause I'm a poet,
doncha know it
And the wind -
you can blow it
Cause I'm Mr. Dylan the king
And I'm free as a bird on the wing

So, Barrett was on the right track in the framing of big picture, despite what one might call abysmal execution - so abysmal he was unable to to see through his creation, and spent the latter two-thirds of his life somewhat tragically in more or less solitude, unable or unwilling to re-engage or re-associate. Talking about being early in calling a top. By contrast, the seemingly dis-ingenuine bull-market creation that was Bob Dylan went from strength to strength, continuing irrespective of his periodic setbacks (a motorcycle crash, and born-again religious episode) for what is now nearly half a century. "Syd" may have been "right" about young Robert Zimmerman from small-town Minnesota, but the victory was pyrrhic, and Dylan, despite the flaws and warts and vanity and disingenuousness highlighted by Barrett (as well as Baez and many others) continued to create great art. Perhaps Dylan confronted and overcame them. Perhaps such flaws are both integral and necessary to success. Perhaps Barrett's view itself though written with at least some admiration, was driven by incipient paranoia and jealousy. The why may not actually be of import.

When I think of today's perma-bears (and they ARE today's because yesterday's are long-since forgotten) - such as Faber, ZeroHedge, Shedlock, Keiser, etc. i.e. those that out of true belief, or demagogic chicanery, see black where there is white (or at the very least it could break either way); conjure an image of imminent doom in place of the more probable ploddingness of humanity; and feel it their duty (or way to scrape a living) to point out to others what they see as the primacy of "the dark side", in regards to every imaginable subject from the incipient threat of liberalism or progressivism, immigration, the past unraveling and impending re-unraveling of the financial system with visions of collapse evident in each and every headline, I cannot help but think of Syd Barrett. For one would be challenged to find perm-bears who have productively created anything positive - in thought, ideas, or public policy - or who, like Dylan, despite his obvious flaws,  has survived the test of time in anything other than the entertainment or financialnewsletterwriting business pandering to pessimists and preying upon those ignorantly or genetically predisposed to end-of-the-world-ism. It is a vile occupation that results in penury for its acolytes.

Undoubtedly, the market will fluctuate. In all likelihood - it will suffer a major setback at sometime  (or times) in the future, just as it has in the past, whether it be in response to war, recession, natural disaster, cumulative bad policy mistakes, bad luck, or just plain over-speculation. Perma-bears may even be right about the eventual collapse of society, the rapture, bitcoins, gold, and the decay of government and the financial system as we know it. But validation of such nebulous things is unlikely to arrive tomorrow, or next year, or on a time-scale and with a probability that is actionable - even if (and its a big if) they are eventually right. The negatively-biased lens (as with many other strongly-biased lens) is neither a way to invest, nor live one's life, though there is no shortage of blow-hard charlatans that will fill any space granted with their repetitive warnings of imminent doom to placate one's fears. Note that this is not an argument for blind momentum investing, nor a justification to eschew the healthy skepticism or risk-reward framework one should embrace in assessing any potential investment or strategy. Rather, it is a plea to identify and avoid inflexible thinkers whose conclusions are pre-determined. For like Syd Barrett, fifty years (and counting) is a long-time - nearly a lifetime - to wait for the rest of the world to come around (if ever they do) to one's point of view.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm not perma-bear, I hibernate (which allowed me, so far, to make some money in the market), but even I see the perma bears as a cult. Especially the non-fiat currency camp is ridden with internal inconsitencies, but then a greater man than I said "consistency is a hobgoblin of little minds" (to be consistent with others, I ommited orignal's "A foolish" adjective to "consistency") so hey, the opposite is surely a mark of a great mind!

I especially like the armageddon scenarios and would like to hear some enlinghtement on how bitcoin would work then. Or even gold, as opposed to say ammo, guns, canned food and similar?

Anonymous said...

Fine writing and perspective, Cass. I'm buying a couple of businesses, and I tell my shareholders it's not worth planing on nuclear bombs. If it happens, our price is still right and we'll get out flat.
RJ

Anonymous said...

I've said many times this market will stop rallying when ZeroHedge goes out of business or at least gets sincerely bullish.

There is decent money or fame to be made as a doomsayer. Ravi Batra sold a lot of books and William Miller was certainly well known in his day. Doesn't Zero's clever Keynes tagline kind of indicate that he's in on the joke though?

nnyhav said...

ObCit: Positively Wall Street

Anonymous said...

" It is a vile occupation that results in penury for its acolytes"

Perfect Sentence

Patrick Cheenne said...

Maybe the real information is that an intuition is building that markets will be more and more subject to external influences. Catastrophic events are an obvious pick, but as you rightly object they haven't managed to seriously derail the financial system so far. Yet, the finance OS may upgrade in the near future to incorporate more directly needs from the real world and less corporate greed lobbying. Talking of weak signals, I remember reading a piece on The Big Picture a few weeks ago on Fed chairmen reassessing TBTF in public talks over the pas year. Okay,Christmas is coming and I am probably overoptimistic but what if - that's a big if - governments were preparing to seize the next fall to tame the beast?