Shine On You Davey Pedansky
by Nate Knaebel
I met Jeff Schkowksy, forty-eight years old and married with three kids, at Ritter’s, a classic “kiss-my-grits” diner not far from where he grew up in Swissvale, PA, an unincorporated suburb of Pittsburgh just outside the city limits. Skinny and of medium height with a scruffy beard and hair down to his ears, Jeff gives off a slightly manic quality, but is by all accounts a reliable man who works his shift at a Home Depot and goes home to his family. I needed to talk to Jeff, though. I needed to hear his story. I needed to know why Jeff believed the intruder in his mother’s basement on the night of on August 17, 1984, was Syd Barrett.
In the annals of rock’n’roll lore there are few stories as genuinely astonishing as that of Syd Barrett’s unforeseen reunion, following roughly a half-decade of solitude and reclusion, with his former band mates in Pink Floyd.
After increasingly erratic behavior brought on by Barrett’s copious intact of hallucinogens combined with unattended psychological and mental issues, he was dropped from Pink Floyd in 1968. Barrett would release the much lauded and, to this day, beloved solo album The Madcap Laughs in 1970 and, in later that same year, Barrett, its maligned yet enjoyable follow-up. By the close of the decade, however, he had retreated into almost total isolation at his mother’s house in Cambridge, where he would lead a quiet life far removed from the public eye until his death 2006.
Syd’s legend never waned, though. And helping to sustain it was the story of his sudden almost supernatural appearance at Abbey Road Studios in 1975 during Pink Floyd’s recording of the album Wish You Were Here. Unbeknownst to the members of the band, a nearly unrecognizable Barrett, overweight and with a completely shaved head, including his eyebrows, wandered into the studio at the precise moment the band was recording the song “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” their tribute to Syd himself.
For all intents and purposes this was the last time anyone in Pink Floyd would see their fallen leader, the psychedelic wayfarer who had given the band its original shape and direction. It was the last time they would ever see their friend.
One can be forgiven for wanting to imbue “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” with certain esoteric properties or to project onto Syd his own mystical powers for that matter. Perhaps Syd’s psychedelic journeys offered him certain insights into the interdimensional pathways that lie beneath our more conventional and tangible reality. Perhaps “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” was a siren’s song helping Syd to locate a door of perception that led directly from Cambridge to St. John’s Wood. Perhaps that door had always been available to Syd but trepidation had sent him through it just the once.
I believed for a long time that this was an isolated incident. I’d heard rumors of Syd showing up at a bowling alley in Milwaukee in 1979 just as “Diamond” came over the house speakers. And a 1982 Syd sighting in the back row of a Laser Floyd show at the Hayden Planetarium in Boston was intriguing but unsubstantiated. It appeared as though the original event was nothing more than a spooky coincidence, making for so much after-hours stoned speculation among Guitar Center clerks, save for yet another peculiar tale nearly identical to those just described, an incident that occurred in Swissvale, PA, just outside of Pittsburgh.
Jeff Schakowsky and Jackie Shockawitz were, according to police reports, enjoying a quiet, intimate evening in Schakowsky’s mother’s basement when a man estimated to be in his late-thirties to early-forties, heavy-set, and bald suddenly materialized from a shadowy corner. After a moment of intense shock that gave way to confusion, Schakowsky and Shockawitz demanded to know who the man was and why he was in their basement. The man offered no reply and quickly vanished from the premises, cloaked by the basement’s black-lit ambiance. Schakowsky, who was more than willing to recall the story when I reached out to him, stated that “Syd wasn’t really doin’ nothin’ weird. He didn’t look like he wanted to hurt anybody. He was just standin’ there looking, observing. Real gentle.”
While this may appear to be nothing more than a simple albeit slightly unnerving story of home invasion, its significance lies in the key fact that as the couple recognized the intruder’s presence, “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” was playing on the radio.
“I’m always tuned in to DVE,” said Schakowsky. WDVE being Pittsburgh’s premier classic rock–oriented station. “I never turn it off. And Floyd was everywhere back then. It’s kind of still everywhere now. WISH was like almost ten years old when Syd was in my basement. But the ‘Burgh doesn’t move on too fast.”
Indeed Pittsburgh rock radio has often been criticized for the seeming ubiquity of the classic-rock format. Even gaining industry-wide notoriety for having the same Lynyrd Skynyrd song playing at the same time on three different stations.
So there’s little doubt that “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” could have been playing on WDVE at the moment, and a quick scan of the station’s playlists for the summer of 1984 indicates that it was in heavy rotation. This doesn’t of course mean that the intruder, as Schakowsky claims, was Syd Barrett. Jackie Shockawitz, sadly, was killed in a car accident in 1988 and cannot confirm or deny her ex-boyfriend’s story.
Was Syd Barrett in Mary Lynn Schakowsky’s basement on the night of August 17, 1984? Jeff Schakowsky is convinced. However, the conventional wisdom holds that the intruder wasn’t the former Pink Floyd lead singer and noted recluse, but rather Schakowsky’s uncle, David Pedansky, or Davey as his family calls him, a man whose peeping Tom antics and general odd behavior have not gone unnoticed by local law enforcement or the community over the years.
At roughly six feet tall, weighing approximately 280 pounds, and with hair described to me by Schakowsky as “like the dude in Young Frankenstein from the Raymond show.” (I asked him if he meant Peter Boyle, he said yes and then asked me if I watched the show. I sound no, I found it excessively shrill. He said he could see that but that it kind of reminded him of his mom. I told him he should search out Joe if liked the “dude in Young Frankenstein from the Raymond show.” He asked if it was on Netflix. I said I didn’t know.) Given the description, it wouldn’t be impossible to mistake Davey Pedansky for the former front man of one of rock music’s most legendary acts. When asked whether his sighting of Barrett could have been a simple case of mistaken identity and that the man in his basement was actually his uncle, Schakowsky responded by explaining that look “I know it sounds totally nuts. But see, okay, the dude in my basement was just kinda standing there. He was glazed. He was watching the earth move or something.
“Davey, so, look, I don’t want to talk shit about my uncle, but, oh, Jesus Christ, Dave’s a total creep, he would have been just totally jerking off.”
So taking stock of Schakowsky’s theory that Syd Barrett was in his basement, we see that it’s based on the flimsiest of evidence. 1) That the song “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” was playing on the radio. 2) That the man in his mother’s basement resembled what Syd Barrett would have looked like in 1984. (Although Schakowsky admits that his knowledge of Barrett is minimal. He knows that “Diamond” is a tribute to Floyd’s fallen front man and that Syd, as he put it, “got fat, shaved himself, and disappeared,” but says that Barrett’s work in general is too “flower power” for his taste. “It’s like weirdo Austin Powers,” he says, “not for me. I’ll jam Dark Side to The Wall and I’m done. I don’t even fuck with Final Cut.” Although he did admit to “jamming hard to Pompeii once or twice.” Which subsequently prompted my suggestion to at least go back and consider “jamming” Meddle, which contains two tracks performed on Pompeii , and if he enjoyed those then it wouldn’t be too far of a stretch to work backward to Saucerful of Secrets, and eventually Piper. He said he’d consider it, and then asked me if I was some kind of Floyd expert. I informed him that I was far from it, and was actually something of a mirror opposite of him in terms of fandom–that I was primarily interested in the Syd Barrett era; however, I too had “jammed hard to Pompeii once or twice,” and I also liked Meddle.) And 3) that the man in his basement was not masturbating. This final factor being conclusive evidence for him that the man was not his uncle Davey, but rather Syd Barrett.
Flimsy evidence indeed. Still, let us entertain the possibility that the man who intruded on a young couple’s intimate evening was indeed Syd. How and why would he have been in a suburb of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, at that exact moment? Perhaps Barrett got on a plane and flew to Pittsburgh. Took a cab to the city’s Swissvale neighborhood, walked into the Schakowsky home, went to the basement, heard the song his former band mate’s had written for him, and stopped to listen. This is an admittedly unlikely scenario. One even more improbable and controversial than the “Many Worlds” theory of quantum mechanics. A theory developed by physicists Hugh Everett that posits that our very experience of the universe is in and of itself a quantum system, and when those many different quantum systems are acted upon they are not forced into a static state, but rather they split. Thus for each outcome of any given scenario the universe presents multiple options. Regardless of which decision is made, both realities exist simultaneously. With an infinite number of actions, we are presented with an infinite number of choices and thus an infinite number of reactions and an infinite number of universes. The original theory holds that once these universes are created they never interact again. However, a 2014 paper entitled “Quantum Phenomena Modeled by Interactions between Many Classical Worlds” in the journal Physical Review X suggests the possibility that these worlds can interact and overlap. Is what occurred in the Schakowsky basement in 1984 a case of parallel universes colliding? A universe in which Syd Barrett, as drugged out as ever but living in a suburb of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, overlapped momentarily with our own reality? A cosmic hallucination in some way? At the very least, it’s a possibility. Please note, I am not a quantum physicist.
Another possibility, one even more intriguing than Schakowsky’s original theory or the interacting worlds hypothesis is that Barrett was in possession of a teleportation device, a concept not nearly as outlandish as it sounds. All Syd would need is two machines, one in Cambridge and one in Pittsburgh, capable of quickly analyzing the trillion-plus atoms of the human body. One machine would send the information and the other would reconstitute it on the other end. That the reconstitution process is a perilous one requiring total precision lest the reconstituted Barrett emerge not fully intact and thus mentally handicapped or otherwise prohibited in some way; or, that in order to avoid duplicate Syd Barretts at every use of the device the singer would essentially be committing voluntary suicide each time he used it is of no concern here. Simply put, in a universe of infinite possibilities, this could hypothetically explain how Syd Barrett got into Jeff Schakowsky’s mother’s basement.
Still, as much as these theories intrigued me, I couldn’t get past the simple notion that the man in the basement was just Davey Pedansky. So I tracked Davey down. An older gentleman at this point, Davey was in an assisted living facility in Mckees Rocks, PA. He was eccentric, as I expected, but lucid. I asked him if he’d ever heard of Syd Barrett, he said that he hadn’t but that he loved Sid Caesar. I asked him to recall his time living in Swissvale with his sister, and he spoke of it fondly and with clarity, extolling the virtues of Ronald Reagan, lamenting the demise of the Chuck Noll-led Pittsburgh Steelers, and commending what he saw as America’s more sympathetic relationship with garden-variety sex offenders. It was at that point that I asked Davey if he could recall ever sneaking down to his sister’s basement to spy on his nephew and his nephew’s girlfriend while they were together. He relayed to me with a disturbing frankness that he’d done it often. He even told of a time that he almost got caught, but “thank God,” as Davey put it, “I hadn’t unzipped yet.” He said he wasn’t even sure if his nephew got a good look at him, but that given his own reputation, Jeff would have had to have been in serious denial not to know who it was.
Alas, as much as I, and apparently Jeff Schakowski for that matter, want to believe that a disturbed singer-songwriter might possess the power of cosmic telepathy or that a certain song holds secrets that can unlock vast mysteries of the universe, both expanding it in terms of its possibilities while shrinking it in terms of its physical navigation; as much as I want to exist in a universe that possesses an infinity that is daunting in its complexity yet oddly comforting in its multitudes; as much as I want to believe that Syd Barrett was in possession of a teleportation device and that such a device even exists, the only thing I know for sure is that Davey Pedansky is a perv and someone has to take him down.
Nate Knaebel is a writer, an editor, and a fanatical record and book collector, to the point where he has to start thinking logistically. In addition to writing about music and books on various sites around the Internet, Nate hosts the weekly radio show Burn It Down! with Nate K on the free-form station of the nation, WFMU.