After the sunny and endearing delights of “Bryter Layter”, Nick Drake’s third and final album would prove to be his most desolate and starkest outing this side of Sylvia Plath’s “Black Rook In Rainy Weather”. At this point Drake had become an extreme recluse, having withdrawn so deeply within himself that even his closest acquaintances were locked out from whatever it was that was going on inside his metaphysically disturbed mind. And so it should stand to reason that perhaps the only person truly qualified to critique “Pink Moon” should also have a degree in psychoanalysis.
To describe the album as bleak would be an understatement. So much so that the next time you’re confronted by one of those overtly positive American-inspired automatons who tells you that everything is just “awesome”, hand them a copy of this, and after a few listens I guarantee they’ll be on the tryptanol in no time.
The entire LP was recorded over two late night sessions. Because Joe Boyd had returned to America, Drake asked John Wood to produce, and since he had already worked on Nick’s previous two albums, Wood was someone whom he trusted on an intuitive level.
Despite its apocalyptic subject matter, the album’s title track is an attractive opener, where Nick sings the ominous lines “I saw it written and I saw it say/Pink Moon is on its way/And none of you stand so tall/Pink moon gonna get you all”. No doubt the potential threat of an atomic holocaust was an ever present one on the minds of most people throughout the 1950’s and ‘60’s. And especially after the Cuban Missile Crisis it’s little wonder that kids began taking drugs to escape reality only a few years later, doing their best not to think about all that Hard Rain which might fall upon them at any moment.
“Place to Be” is similar in style to “Pink Moon”, only now we have our troubadour reflecting on better days, a time when he was “young, younger than before/I never saw the truth hanging from the door”, followed in the next stanza by “Now I’m darker than the deepest sea/Just hand me down, give me a place to be”. Drake had been prescribed anti-depressants, which he refused to take, admitting that they diminished his creativity. Perhaps this song was an admission that things weren’t all that right.
“Road” has some intricate and melodic finger picking, which on any other album would probably sound like a demo. But the honesty of his performance has an immediacy and intimacy which draws you in, as if he’s playing right in front of you.
“Which Will” holds a special place in my heart, for reasons I won’t bore you with. Nick’s direct vocal delivery and guitar has a rhythmic and hypnotic quality to it. The lyrics are as esoteric as always, but like all the best art, interpretation is the key to unlocking the experience.
Listening to “Horn” is akin to rummaging through the instrumental attic of Nick’s mind, and which is essentially a brief and barren landscape of thought. This, and nothing more.
“Things Behind the Sun” provides another cryptic insight into Drake’s sophisticated yet isolated psyche. At once soothing and disturbing at the same time.
The bluesy “Know” follows in “Things…” depressing footsteps, and is another infertile outing where Drake quietly murmurs and wails in his best English public school manner.
With lines like “People all in dismay/Falling so far on a silver spoon/Making the Moon for fun”, one could ponder in “Parasite” whether Drake is referring to the drug scene, and that the ‘bloodsucker’ he refers to is the drug in question. But to be honest, I have no idea. Like the majority of his lyrics, one can never really be sure. Drugs; depression; who can say? It’s all a mystery. And so without the author’s own explanation as to what his words meant, writers will go on extrapolating all sorts of interpretations as to their true meaning and understanding. Is “Free Ride” concerned with his frustrations at not feeling comfortable with performing live? Lines such as “Counting the cattle as they go by the door/Keeping a carpet that’s so thick on the floor” seem to suggest so. But am I reading too much into things which simply weren’t there to begin with? Perhaps.
“Harvest Breed” is another gloomy number, about “Falling fast and falling free”. Like much of the album, it has a certain autumnal beauty about it which is hard to explain much less put one’s finger on. A little bit like walking through a forest while the sun is setting.
“From the Morning” ends things on what seems to me, and what I can only describe as a ‘positive-indifferent’ note. It contains the words “Now we rise/And we are everywhere”, which were inscribed on his gravestone. Like some luminous star that seems so near, yet in reality so distant, Drake himself is someone we can only wonder at from a distance.
The reality is that it couldn’t have been all that much fun being him. At the time of Pink Moon’s release, despite the album having received some critical acclaim, Nick had slipped ever further into depression, retreating to the sanctuary of his parent’s home at Tanworth in Arden. Whatever the cause of his condition, like most forms of mental illness, such things cannot easily be explained. Yet like Antoine de Saint Exupery’s “Le Petit Prince”, whose themes of loneliness, misunderstanding, and loss, could quite easily be applied to Drake himself. Of the many poets and artists who have lived throughout the centuries, without their own unique perception and creative expression, and ultimately suffering, consider how much the poorer our own lives would be.
Note of trivia; on the cover of Cat Stevens’ “Tea for the Tillerman”, there can be seen a pink moon, a deliberate reference to Nick’s own LP of the same name.