A friend first pointed it out to me in the 70’s – an appreciation that appeared on the back page of the Village Voice every November. Nothing fancy – just a plain “Nick Drake 1948-1974, thank you for the music.”
Back then very few people had even heard his name. I had - through listening to John Peel play his incandescent songs on BBC Radio. Still, I only possessed one of his albums, the debut, Five Leaves Left. It’s funny, I can remember the cover so well – green bordered with a picture of a willowy young man looking out from an attic window.
I had to be in a certain mood to play it – besides there were times when you just wouldn’t want Nick in the room – especially if you thought someone with you wouldn’t appreciate him. If it was someone you were romantically involved with – you especially thought twice about it - supposing they didn’t like Nick, then what? One of them had to go and I well knew which one. I can summon up that mood and a lot of other old feelings by just thinking of that album cover and the songs within.
Nick Drake’s music was enigmatic – deep and churning but deceptively calm on the surface. It never seems to date, perhaps, because he captured a mood, rather than a time and place.
His other two albums, Bryter Layter and Pink Moon are no less enthralling. They too evoke the same mood. He died in 1974 – a failure, in his own eyes at any rate. He is now best known in the US for a Volkswagen ad but you can hear his influence on a multitude of artists. Many of them are attracted to his essence – none grasp it. All three of his albums sold less than 5000 copies in his lifetime. But obviously each person who bought one treasured it and the mood it identified; then passed on the word. Incredibly, his three albums keep getting better with time.
The memorial in the Voice eventually stopped. Did the admirer die, move on, move out of New York? I watched the back page of the Voice for a couple of years and then I too moved on. Just another New York oddity that I rarely give thought to, until Saturday mornings on Celtic Crush when I play Nick.
It never seemed like morning music to me back in the day – I rarely listened to it before midnight. But Nick Drake’s songs have become timeless and hourless – much like the man himself.