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Nick Drake: The Life

Nick Drake: The Life

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Is it fair to assume, because Nick was there for three years after the last album, he went walking there, and if I walked there, I’d be sort of walking in his spirit? RMJ makes the point that everyone - absolutely everyone - adored him and did their best to help him, including high-profile people such as Chris Blackwell and, of course, Joe Boyd. But although much dope was smoked – and it remains plausible that the singer’s cannabis consumption might have precipitated a form of psychosis – Morton Jack concludes that he almost certainly wasn’t using anything harder. Although he was an English singer-guitarist whose unconventional tunings and numinous lyrics set him apart, even in a crowded folk revival field, a chasm had opened up between the promise of his talent and his meagre public profile.

There were glimmers of positive action from Nick towards the end, but many more of him being at his worst, really. We all know that he had tracks on Island sampler albums in his lifetime, which sold huge numbers, so there was that.So cherry-picking the most salient bits of the diary was one of the most difficult tasks for me, because it would have been easy just to turn the whole thing into prose. The suggestion that the Pink Moon advert is where Nick’s story suddenly changed is, as far as I’m concerned, inaccurate because his records were freely available all over England in the 1990s when I was a teenager.

People who have studied this illness all their lives have no better understanding of patients than you had of Nick,” he wrote.There’s an entry from July 1974 that says something like, ‘Nick went to a rock concert in London this evening but left early and came home’. Rodney had written nothing that any concerned parent wouldn’t have thought under the circumstances, but he and Molly perhaps didn’t grasp the intensity of their son’s commitment to his music or – as they later conceded – his brilliance.

It’s striking that Nick was willing to perform alone and at close quarters in front of such an intimidating audience. It’s not an easy read, especially towards the end, but it puts into perspective not just the genius of the music but how it came to be, and sadly, the destructive nature of poor mental health. Nick just turned up, then one of the pictures was chosen (by Nigel, not by him), then the artwork was generated.Nick didn’t perform songs that weren’t finished, it’s just not how he operated, he never shared anything that wasn’t finished. One of the many things I learned in the book that I was not fully aware of was that, besides producing Nick Drake’s first two albums, he thought Nick’s songs could be covered by other prominent artists, some of whom I didn’t suspect. Yet he seemed disturbed that he didn’t have more success and recognition, especially maybe after the second album, which is in some ways a step forward from Five Leaves Left but didn’t get significantly more acclaim. The sadness inherent in the music had been veiled behind beautiful arrangements and an intriguing voice that drew you in.

It was reported for many years that when Pink Moon, Nick’s third and final album, was done, he went to Island Records and, without telling anybody, just put the tape at the reception and left. To an extent – maybe tacitly – Nick’s parents have been criticised for not having recognised that they had a genius in their midst, but that’s not how life works.To Nick Drake fans who may baulk a little at the no-punches-pulled nature of the book, please remember he was ill and that the illness was not the person.

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