The Album List: #78 Nick Drake “Pink Moon”

Ohmigod, she went and picked yet another tragic, moody singer-songwriter who dies so very young and unappreciated. Then his song became a car commercial and suddenly there was a renaissance and-

Shut up already. I have a type. Tragic is my type. Funny is also my type. Get me tragic and funny and I will die a million times over.

Nick Drake was a sad little troubadour. His brilliance as a singer-songwriter was sadly unrecognized in his lifetime. When he died in 1974, Pink Moon had sold maybe about 5,000 copies. It breaks your heart.

It’s the melancholy. I’m one of those people who loves a good wallow. Happy is a concept best left to others. It’s not in my vocabulary. So an album by Nick Drake is a state of being address, for if I am listening to Nick Drake, I am clearly in a bad place.

It has the benefit of being less than a half hour long, so the pity party never lasts long, and it’s sparse and elegant in its simplicity. It’s Nick drake and Nick Drake alone on this record- producer Joe Boyd just let him play over two consecutive two-hour recording sessions. That  wispy voice, the incomprehensible lyrics, and the gentle strumming of the guitar, with an occasional piano overdub that is so economical as to be almost unnecessary- record like this aren’t supposed to exist, and they certainly aren’t meant to be any good.

The album almost buckles under the weight of its sadness- much of it is conjecture. Drake’s disappointment in his lack of commercial success was rumoured to be his undoing, a surprise considering his dislike for performing and press. Knowing his sad, mysterious end makes one listen to this album with a heavy heart. Great art comes from some of the saddest minds, true, but depression takes some of those great artists from us way too soon.

Despite all this blue washing over the music, the album has a warm feeling to it. Acoustic guitars are funny things. I feel at home and at peace when an acoustic guitar is playing. I have a quilt that my Farmor gave me when I was young that I keep on my bed. It was fragile, old fabric to begin with, and it continues to deteriorate- the edging is gone, leaving only the batting, and there are places so threadbare it ceases to look pink but striped. This album and its guitar makes me feel like I’m wrapped up in that quilt. Frankly, at this exact moment, I am wrapped up in that quilt, but you all get my point.

It’s a paradox, really, this album and my feelings about and for it. I feel at ease and at home, but it’s clearly an album of desperation and overwhelming bleakness. As Drake spins wildly out of control, he writes the title track, a bright little ditty with a tinkerbell piano overdub that would later become the soundtrack of a VW car advert. I had heard of Nick Drake before that time ( Peter Buck of R.E.M. was influenced by Drake and talks about it often). But even I put off listening and buying the album until I had actually heard something by Nick Drake. That one commercial ended up with him selling more records in a day than he had in his lifetime. That is either the sad state of the modern world, or a beyond the grave triumph.

I’ve heard that a pink moon is one of Catholicism’s signs of the approaching apocalypse. I’d never heard of it. Maybe it’s just a record by a lost genius, with an open tuning on his guitar and obscured lyrical references, inspired by Blake and the like, trying to just make perfect art.


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