A Letter To Nick Drake
It feels weird doing this but I’ve got a few things I’d like to say concerning the amount of fuss that your work has generated now so many years after leaving, what was then, three stunning albums. Well, maybe ‘Pink Moon’ wasn’t exactly ‘stunning’ but you get my drift. The hyperbole attaches itself to that album as it does to the others.
Anyway, they’ve just released another set of ‘rarities and re-mixes’ ‘Made To Love Magic’ to satisfy the apparently insatiable desire to know and hear everything that you left behind. By the way, there has even been a radio documentary narrated by a famous American film star which purports to be ‘searching’ for you. They call you a ‘lost boy’. It gets about as close as anyone else has to saying something new about your life and death. In other words it’s a re-treading of the same ground, your old friends chipping in with anecdotes and remembrances. It seems you’ve become a bit of an industry at last. ‘Forgotten while you’re here, remembered for a while’ never sounded so apposite.
I can’t help feeling that this ‘new’ cd is really being sold on the inclusion of one new song, ‘Tow The Line’. Do you recall it ? Apparently it was on the tape that also contained those ‘last four songs’ as they are now called. You know, the ones you weren’t entirely happy with. Someone said it was better than imagining your life, as a recording artist anyway, ending with ‘Black Eyed Dog’. The sound of you putting your guitar down has been left on too, I suppose there will be discussions about just how you did that. Was that a final statement, a goodbye to a career that wasn’t exactly going anywhere, or was it merely a man putting down his guitar because the song has been sung and is over ? Forgive my cynicism. There seems to be more attention paid to such acts now than there ever was to the music when you were actually around.
You were always such a perfectionist, ‘Bryter Layter’ alone would stand as testimony to that, but now people just want to hear anything you committed to tape, regardless of quality. I wonder how they think you’d feel about that. I thought they’d finished raiding the archive with ‘Time Of No Reply’ but no, they have taken some songs from that and added the arrangements that they, supposedly, would have had all those years ago. I thought the original ‘Time Of No Reply’ was beautiful in its simplicity with just your guitar and voice and I still do. I’m not convinced that the strings are necessary. I can’t help wondering if they are actually doing anything to enhance your legacy or just cashing in.
‘Mayfair’ never was one of your most memorable efforts and I always think that your forgetting the words to a verse supported that notion. It was a bit of light entertainment that could never stand side by side with ‘River Man’ or ‘Northern Sky’ and hardly worth another outing. Yet it is here again.
Perhaps I’m being a little churlish. I mean there are versions of ‘Hanging On A Star’, ‘River Man’ and ‘Three Hours’ that are, in their ways, different and sometimes it is enlightening to hear them performed in another setting, especially the latter two. ‘River Man’ without Harry Robinson’s strings still sounds mesmerising.
Had events been otherwise we might have had a live album or two from you so we could compare versions but you were never that fond of performing in front of often indifferent audiences. I saw you once but my memories are somewhat obscured by the intervening years, though I clearly recall that you sang ‘Cello Song’, because it was, and still is, one of my favourites. They haven’t found another take to resurrect for this compilation however.
Maybe this is the last unearthing of your buried oeuvre but I can’t help feel that they are holding something back to be released at a later date or perhaps there will be a new, re-mixed version of ‘Pink Moon’ with Richard Thompson and John Cale adding their respective parts. You never know. Personally, I hope hell has ice rinks first.
So, I’ve got a few things off my chest, if nothing else, and I’m truly happy that people continue to discover your lovely songs though I would, if given the chance, simply refer them back to those three, virtually flawless albums with which you were happy and pleased to see released in your lifetime. They, in their unique ways, demonstrate the real essence of your achievements and that should be more than enough for anyone.
© 2004 Paul Donnelly