With it being Thanksgiving, as well as the 40th anniversary of the passing of my favorite artist Nick Drake, I thought it apropos to write a little piece on an artist who created music that I am extremely thankful for on a daily basis. Nick Drake’s music still inspires songwriters to this day and as his legend has grown so has his fan-base. For a musician who was widely ignored during his lifetime it is pretty astounding that his work continues to find new listeners who are instantly moved by his songs.
Nick was born in Burma on June 19th, 1948 and grew up in Tanworth-in-Arden, England, which is a lovely little town near Birmingham. During his school years he was an accomplished student and athlete, but gravitated towards music, learning to play multiple instruments including the guitar. He jumped from school to school throughout the sixties finally ending up at Cambridge University in 1967. It is known that around this time he began losing interest in school and began to focus solely on music.
Nick Drake began recording his debut album, Five Leaves Left, in London in 1968. The record was not well received at the time but has since become the defining record of his career. It is intimate, sad, and beautiful all at the same time, and whenever I listen to “Time Has Told Me, “Way To Blue,” “Cello Song,” well every song on the album actually, I still discover something new and wonderful that inevitably gives me the chills.
It is well documented that Nick battled severe depression and the general disregard by the public of Five Leaves Left would be the beginning of a downward spiral that would prove to be too much for the troubled musician. His second album, Bryter Later, was released in 1970 and would be known as the answer to the negativity that came from his debut. While the music is generally more pop oriented the lyrics spoke of the darkness that Nick found himself in. Once again his music was not well received despite the optimism that this would be his breakthrough.
The end of 1970 was a difficult time for the musician. Reeling from the negative reception of Bryter Later, Nick sank further into depression and would reluctantly begin work on his third and final record Pink Moon. Released in 1971, the album is a mere 28 minutes long and is considered to be his breakthrough as it garnered the most favorable press of his career. The stand out title track would find a new audience many years later when it was used in a fantastic Volkswagen commercial. I wanted a new Cabrio the second the ad ended.
Nick passed away at the age of 26 from an overdose of antidepressants on November 25th, 1974 while working on his fourth album. His work has become more popular and more loved than he could have ever imagined, and I wish he were still alive to see just how appreciated his music has become. His voice is haunting, his guitar playing is masterful, and his lyrics are powerful. He was a troubled soul that provided the world with beauty, and even though he may not have seen his own importance at the time, he is “A rare, rare find/A troubled cure/For a troubled mind.”
Thank you Nick Drake.