Choice pickings of the solitary troubadour
Sad, mysterious, tragic. Just those three words alone could best describe the life and work of singer/songwriter/poet Nick Drake, a man who was of his time, but also out of time. Such is the ethereal beauty of his songs that many writers, artists, poets, and even actors have succumbed to his melancholy charms (the late Heath Ledger was apparently working on a documentary of the late musician before his own untimely passing).
Way To Blue: An Introduction To Nick Drake, as far as prefaces are concerned, is perhaps the best place to start for anyone wanting to dip their intellectual toe into the murky, melancholic waters of Drake’s uniquely unambitious imagination. He released but a mere three albums during his lifetime, three albums that had their own distinct personalities. From the pastoral glory of Five Leaves Left; the jazz-tinged folk-rock of Bryter Layter, to the all acoustic Pink Moon, his final LP, Drake remained one of the most psychologically fragile figures the English popular folk-rock music scene has ever known.
However the only issue with that last statement is, that he was never really popular.
Whether it’s the reflective “Cello Song,” the philosophical “Hazey Jane I,” or the deeply moving “Way To Blue,” Drake infuses each of his performances with such a profound sense of pathos that one cannot help but pause and put their own thoughts on hold.
“Things Behind The Sun,” “Poor Boy,” and “River Man” give the sense of someone handing out clues yet holding back on their true meaning. The beautiful “Northern Sky” is akin to Constable set to music, although from here on the album begins to settle into a consistent pattern of ever deepening depression.
Nick expresses his concern over a Nuclear Holocaust via “Pink Moon,” self-meditates on “Black Eyed Dog,” while the metaphysical “Which Will” finds him pondering over love, life, and whatever else that comes in between.
It appropriately ends with “Fruit Tree,” Nick’s somewhat cynical statement on how many accomplished artists only reach fame until after their death.
And now, more than forty years after his death, Nick Drake continues to haunt us, in a way not even Drake himself could have imagined. Whatever happened on that night he died, in November 1974, has never adequately been explained. A lonely, solitary figure, it is virtually impossible to conjecture as to which path he might have taken himself in a society obsessed with modernisation (just check out the back cover of Bryter Layter, which has Nick standing romantically beside a freeway). Because for him it was the world of Shelley, Blake and Wordsworth he was drawn to. One only has to read his lyrics to get some understanding of this.
Nick Drake will forever be a mystery to his listeners, and even to those who knew him. Then again, perhaps some mysteries are best left unresolved.