Notes from a small island
A weblog by Jonathan Ali

Thursday, January 23, 2003  

I've just finished watching the romantic comedy Serendipity, starring John Cusack. Your typical rom-com, predictable and schmaltzy, but it held my interest because of the music: some of the songs were by one of my favourite musicians, Nick Drake.

Drake, who died in 1974, was a British singer, songwriter and guitarist who, if he had to be categorised, would have been called a folk musician. While an English student at Cambridge he recorded his first album, then quit university to make music full-time. He recorded two more albums, both of which, like the first, were critically received and recognised by other musicians but commercial disappointments. While working on material for his fourth album at his parents' home, Drake died one night of an overdose of anti-depressants, aged 26. Whether the overdose was accidental or deliberate has never conclusively been established.

Many have rhapsodised and mythicised, and Drake has become something of a cult hero. Painfully shy and deeply introverted, he played live only a handful of times, only ever gave one interview, never had a girlfriend (speculation still abounds about his sexuality) and famously recorded his last album in just two nights. He has been dissected every which way including down; there have been books, documentaries, innumerable articles, stories all trying to piece together the enigma that was Nick Drake.

The first time I listened to a Nick Drake song (the title track from his last album, Pink Moon) I was in awe of the beauty, the grace, of what I was hearing: literally like nothing I'd ever heard before. Just a wonderfully strummed acoustic guitar, some gorgeous bits of piano and Drake's brittle, world-weary voice: "I saw it written and I saw it say/Pink moon is on its way/None of you stand so tall/Pink moon's gonna get ye all".

Everything else of his has that same fragile beauty to it, sometimes with deceptively simple pop instrumentation and arrangements, other times classical, others, jazz. And always that voice, and the oblique impressionist poetry of his lyrics.

A Cambridge friend, Robert Kirby, summed up Drake this way:

"Nick was in some strange way out of time. When you were with him, you always had a sad feeling of him being born in the wrong century. If he would have lived in the 17th Century, at the Elizabethan Court, together with composers like Dowland or William Byrd, he would have been alright. Nick was elegant, honest, a lost romantic - and at the same time so cool. In brief: the perfect Elizabethan."

Elegant, honest, romantic, cool - a description of the man that is more than apposite where his music is concerned as well. I'm not one for making musical recommendations much anymore unless I'm asked, but here I unhesitatingly offer Nick Drake to the uninitiated.

posted by Jonathan | 10:12 PM 0 comments


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