Nick Drake's Pink Moon turns forty
Nick Drake's Pink Moon, released on February 25, 1972, turns forty this week.
In his best selling book Killing Yourself to Live, Chuck Klosterman asserts that "the best career move any musician can make is to stop breathing." When examining Kurt Cobain's post-mortem transformation from junkie dad to iconic voice of a generation, Klosterman notes that the suicide told everyone that "he wasn't kidding," and therefore his songs suddenly became multi-dimensional.
Although for the most part the musicians mentioned in Klosterman's book were at least mildly successful during their lives, the fact that they were still breathing was apparently disguising their true genius from the world. When an artist is a virtual nobody throughout their careers (such as Van Gough or Kafka), and then the following generation "discovers" them, the potential for myth-making, for seeing new clues into the tortured characters behind the work, increases astronomically.
Such is the case with forever-26 year old Nick Drake. Only releasing three albums in as many years, Drake was as famous as a gnat in a cave when he was alive, but since his death, he's become the iconic prototype for the tortured young singer, paving the way for effeminate, bookish self-loathers like Michael Stipe,Connor Oberst and Morrissey.
Things weren't always stale wine and dying roses for Nick Drake, though. Born into the privileged life of boarding schools and country estates in Warwickshire, England, Drake eventually attended the prestigious Cambridge University, soaking up the works of William Blake and W.B. Yeats -- although he would later end up dropping out nine months before graduation, having been corrupted by marijuana, folk records and a recording contract from Island Records.
His debut album, Five Leaves Left, was respected by BBC DJ John Peel and the writers of Melody Maker,, but it left almost no imprint on either side of the Atlantic. For his follow-up, Bryter Layter, he explored a jazzier, fuller sound, with former Velvet Underground guitarist John Cale sitting in on two tracks. While today the album is praised as an enduring classic, at the time, it came and went quietly on the charts the same way as Drake's first release.
Drake's live performances were a real-time version of his album sales, with audiences bored and rude, completely unaware of the talent they were being graced with. It wasn't that Drake's sound wasn't popular at the time -- folkies like Neil Young, Joni Mitchel and James Taylor were selling amazingly well, but those musicians were doing endless rounds of promotion through interviews, tours and hosting parties with other celebrities. After the failures of Five Leaves Left and Bryter Layter, Drake rarely left the house except to record or purchase drugs.
A long-term sufferer of insomnia and depression, Drake had begun smoking exceptional amounts of marijuana in an attempt to balance out his condition. After painful kidney stones were added to his list of ailments, Drake turned to heroin on the recommendation of John Cale. In light of poor sales and a complete disinterest in self-promotion (even gigs were beginning to be seen as a chore), Island Records was prepared to drop Drake and would have done so if not for the protest of a few respected individuals inside the company.
In a desperate attempt to revive the reclusive singer's career, Drake reluctantly gave his solitary interview to Sounds Magazine. The process was awkward, and the writer would go on to describe him as "just a spoiled boy with a silver spoon who went around feeling sorry for himself."