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  • Writer's pictureJeremy Willets

Finding Nick Drake

I first heard about Nick Drake from legendary British DJ John Peel. I remember looking at Peel’s all-time Festive Fifty holiday countdown playlist. Nick had two songs near the very top — “Northern Sky” and “Fly.” Both of them were from the album Bryter Layter. I may have given them a listen and shrugged them off as 60s paraphernalia. But at some point, I heard about Pink Moon. It may have been from Mojo magazine, or perhaps it was the ubiquitous Volkswagen commercial that used the song in the early 2000s. I remember getting a copy of the album right around that time; from the record store where I worked shortly after college. The cardboard sleeve over the CD itself contained a black and white photo of Nick; long, flowing locks of hair and a wry look that didn’t give away much about the 28 minutes contained inside.

I listened to the album a lot when I first got it, and I’ve listened to it a lot since then. It may very well be the album that I’ve spun the most in my life. If it isn’t, it’s certainly in the top 5. It’s been the the CD I put on to fall asleep to after a night out at the bar with friends. It’s also been the album that I put on while running long distances on weekend mornings. Cooking, cleaning, driving, or just relaxing — there’s never been a place where it hasn’t fit in my life.

The mythology around Nick’s extremely short life is part of what drew me to his work; but what’s kept me there is the beauty of the music he created when we he was alive. And I think that’s what he ultimately wanted as an artist. He wanted to make music that would become popular and wouldn’t fade away. He just didn’t get to see success while he was still here.

In the years following my initial purchase of Pink Moon, I consumed Nick’s entire discography. It helped that newly found materials were in the process of being curated and released. I purchased an LP box set of his albums, and read a book about him. And that was ultimately about all their was to consume. He just didn’t live long enough to produce much more.

I recently read the 33 1/3 book on Pink Moon from Continuum. I had read books from the series before and thought this one might be a fun one to read. The book is divided into basically three acts -- the first is the author talking about her own exposure to the album, the second is the biographical information about Nick’s life and the recording of the album, and the third is the revival that ensued after the Volkswagen commercial. The biographical information is why I picked up the book, to be honest, and I wasn’t let down by the treatment. I was let down by reading all of the facts surrounding Nick’s music career over again. I had forgotten how short his life had been, and just how soul crushing his final years had been.

It occurs to me that I’m now coming at the Nick Drake story with a new perspective. A perspective I’ve learned through living my own life. When I was first exposed to him, I was in my early 20s; probably the same age that Nick was while he was making records. I was making music, too. We seemed like peers in some strange regard. His story was still tragic back then, yes, but he left a legacy that’s worthy of respect.

[Insert whatever metaphor you’d like about burning out instead of fading away.]

Nearly twenty years later, I think more about the life that Nick never got to live. That he never got to grow old. I think about how he never saw the success he craved in his life, and whether that success would’ve ever happened had he not died so very young. I think about whether I would’ve even found one of my favorite records ever had the author or it not had such a mythology surrounding him.

I also think about the fact that even though people expire, the music they make has no expiration date.

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