Every autumn l descend into a blind hero worship of Nick Drake. I don’t know why this happens. It’s been an annual tradition since I was about sixteen but I only realised last year. As I found myself neurotically compiling a Nick Drake playlist to reflect my affected state of autumnal blues, I noticed I’d made two more at exactly the same time of year before.
I often have this conversation with friends; the unparalleled sense of intimacy you feel when you hear Nick’s music, as though he’s exclusively engaged in a conversation with just you. There’s a sort of dialogue whereby his emotional vulnerability probes your own. I remember when I first delved into his music I felt almost as though I’d been let in on a really big secret. And that no one else really knew who he was. No one else really heard Nick Drake like I did.
This is obviously bollocks. Nick Drake is notoriously the poster boy for English song-writing — glorified by the misunderstood teenager and ‘let-me-tell-you-about-69’ Boomer alike. Forever memorialised in that VW ad. But sixteen year old me felt privileged to find him in the claustrophobic corners of my childhood bedroom. And I think a lot of equally misanthropic teenagers felt similar.
I suppose part of the reason Nick’s voice feels so unadulterated, so free-spoken is because of his commercial obscurity. His music was never filtered through a glossy engineered public persona. He has no idea that anyone listens to him. He’d probably think it was a bit weird if you told him there’s a girl who used to pilgrimage around Hampstead Heath after school trying to locate the photographs taken during Pink Moon’s recording sessions.
Perhaps it’s slightly gratuitous to claim that Nick’s lack of recognition is his greatest gift, when for him it was his personal undoing. Although there is definitely something to be said for his unabashed vulnerability, I don’t think it’s just for this reason that I find myself reaching for his music. There’s a nostalgia his songs possess that you can’t quite place. A sense of looking back with aching reminiscence. Maybe that’s why it’s so apt for this time of year.
Songs like ‘Place To Be’ with its dreamy, oscillating rhythm strike a wistful sentimental chord. Nick’s reminiscence over once being ‘green, greener than the hill’ conjure up an image of childlike naivety undercut by wry cynicism. ‘One of These Things First’ does similarly, recounting thwarted youthful ambitions.
I suppose that’s it. Not only is Nick’s music a familiar place to crawl into as the days get colder and darker, but he provokes a self-reflection tinged with nostalgia. As I revisit Nick Drake each year I feel as though I’m revisiting parts of myself.
A friend recently sent me an excerpt from an interview with John Martyn where he talks about Nick’s posthumous legacy and the way “pseudo-intellectual ponces” analyse Nick’s lyrics into the ground. Martyn laments how “the whole thing is there if it’s on wax; there’s no reason it should be transferred to paper.” There’s a high chance I’m being a pseudo-intellectual ponce myself here but even so, I think he’s got a point. The beauty of Nick’s music is not his voice or lyrics or melody but the way all the parts interact together to create an intoxicating musical space. Transcribing his sound onto a Genius webpage where self-important teenagers (once me) can rip apart his words and speculate into oblivion just doesn’t quite work. (‘PinkMoonz’ comments on ‘Pink Moon’ are a case in point here).
I suppose what I’ve realised is that autumn mirrors the space Nick’s music creates in my mind. They compliment each other. Perfectly. And as I trudge through soggy masses of oranges and browns in the 3 o’clock drizzle, there isn’t any other sound I’d rather be entirely consumed by.
Featured Image: Island Records, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons