Considering Nick Drake’s innate shyness, it’s a wonder that he ever recorded at all, which makes it all the more incredible that he is a posthumous star.
He hated to perform live and did so only reluctantly. He hated self-promotion even more, and avoided interviews like another person would avoid germs or car accidents. There are precious few photographs of him, and literally no film other than home movies from his childhood. In 2000, a film entitled “A Skin Too Few” was made documenting Drake’s life, but it ends in 45 minutes, and not a single person steps forward who can say they actually knew him.
And yet, we have this gorgeous music that expresses more of his innermost thoughts than most of us will know about some of our closest friends. It’s a conundrum that such a private distant person would be able to convey so much through words and melody, and yet I can’t help but wonder if Drake himself would be appalled by all of this posthumous attention.
For myself, I like to let the songs stand on their own merit, and it is very easy for me to apply my own imagery and emotional impressions to the music and words of Nick Drake. Critics often mention a profound sense of mortality and foreboding in his songs, but I think much of that is Monday morning quarterbacking. To my own ears, there is much more on “Five Leaves Left” that sounds genuinely hopeful. “Time Has Told Me” is a genuine love song (albeit tentative), while “Thoughts of Mary Jane” is downright romantic. “Cello Song” portrays an inquisitive soul aspiring to rise above the muck of ordinary life through the beauty observed in someone else. These are love songs that would work on a mix-tape for a new girlfriend – offering “a troubled cure for a troubled mind”. Even “Way to Blue” confounds its title, as it is about a fragile soul seeking the way to something as positive as a sunny blue sky.
Song after song is lush with emotion, and yet sparing in words, which could explain why so much of his work has found its way into film soundtracks. “Five Leaves Left” inspires an internal dialogue in anybody who chooses to listen. It is music for somebody who is alone, but not necessarily lonely.
September 1969 - Billboard Did Not Chart
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