Pink Moon: A Glimpse Into the Final Days of Nick Drake

Never reaching mainstream success during his life, Drake is now posthumously revered as folk a music legend.

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Pink Moon: A Glimpse Into the Final Days of Nick Drake

Liam Gill, Reporter

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Music and the four seasons have an intimate and profound connection with one another. It’s why so many people, myself included, sometimes go so far as to curate playlists specifically for the upcoming season in anticipation of the moods and lifestyles that inevitably change with the weather. Spring and Summer call for upbeat tempos, major keys, anthems of youthful vibrance; Winter for timeless holiday carols and later for pick-me-ups to survive the long post-holiday months; Autumn for…well, Autumn is a bit more complex.

Autumn is a time of natural beauty born from the exit of summer, the world is yellow like the sun of a dawn before an equally beautiful day. Only, the season ends cold and dark with the sun setting before most of us even get home for the day. Autumn is enjoyed not because it precedes a longer, more beautiful season, no, it has wisdom to it; we know we can’t rely on it for very long. We enjoy it with mindfulness and respect, looking inward just as much outward. The music we gravitate towards tends to reflect this, for the most part. Sad, but not too sad. Bittersweet.

No piece of music better embodies the spirit of Autumn than Nick Drake’s third and final studio record, Pink Moon. Written and recorded in October of 1971, Pink Moon is stripped down and raw. Consisting only of Drake’s mesmerizing fingerstyle acoustic guitar in intricate tunings and Drake’s whispery and ethereal vocals, it has since been revered as one of the most influential folk albums of its time. It has garnered widespread acclaim both from critics and casual listeners alike and served as inspiration for other popular artists of the same genre like Elliott Smith and Sufjan Stevens. With hints of melancholy and delicate introspection, Drake crafts a musical atmosphere of the same wisdom and complexity of the season during which it was recorded.

Nick Drake, circa 1970.

To neglect the story of the man who wrote it, though, and what it represented, would be to do both him and the music a great disservice. The tragedy embedded within Pink Moon’s beauty is not unlike the dichotomy of Autumn. At twenty-six, two years after the album’s release, Nick Drake died of a suspected suicide – an overdose on prescription antidepressants. Pink Moon was Drake’s final album, written and recorded just before the resurgence of a lifelong depression Drake could not escape from. It’s barebones instrumentation and vocal delivery is a shift from his previous two records, which featured a wide range of instrumentation including brass and piano – commonplace in folk music. It’s the album that Drake wanted to write. No part of it was intended to draw a particular crowd or earn radio time. In it, he left a piece of him. In it, he still lives.

The album’s closer, “From the Morning,” is just as much of a conclusion to the life of Drake as it is to Pink Moon. Optimistic lyrics are juxtaposed with the relatively somber songwriting on the preceding ten tracks; Drake sings of the morning of a new day – a better day. It’s a reflection on youth and the passing of time.

A day once dawned

And it was beautiful 

A day once dawned 

From the ground…

So look, see the sights

The endless summer nights

Go play the game that you learned 

From the morning…

It’s a future Drake felt he would not see, eternalized in one of the last songs he would ever write. It feels as though he wrote it knowing it would symbolize his departure from not only music, but from life itself. A line from the second verse is engraved on his tombstone.

Drake’s tombstone in Tanworth-In-Arden, England.

Drake saw very little mainstream success during his career, his few fans were situated in his hometown of Tanworth-In-Arden, England and the surrounding region. The few shows he played were attended by crowds more interested in a night out drinking  and socializing than keeping quiet for a folk gig. Discouraged, underrated, and clinically depressed, Drake retired from music. He knew he was talented. His family knew. His friends knew. His producers knew. They also knew he was greatly underrated, a hardship with which Drake could not reconcile.

He became increasingly isolated and withdrawn in the months after Pink Moon was released, and returned to his childhood home to reside with his parents and younger sister, Gabrielle. Drake wan’t particularly enthused with his return to his parents’ house; Gabrielle recalled him telling their mother “I don’t like it at home, but I can’t bear it anywhere else.” Drake’s depression deepened and he further withdrew, sometimes using his mother’s car to drive aimlessly for hours on end until it ran out of gas.

Molly Drake, Nick’s mother and a poet, wrote a piece of prose during the last few months of her son’s life. While she never explicitly stated it was about him, it would be hard to imagine anyone else as the subject of it:

“The Shell”

Living grows round us like a skin

To shut away the outer desolation

For if we clearly mark the furthest deep

We should be dead long years before the grave.

But turning around within the homely shell

Of worry, discontent, and narrow joy

We grow and flourish

And rarely see the outside dark

That would confound our eyes.

Some break the shell.

I think that there are those

Who push their fingers through

The brittle walls

And make a hole.

And through this cruel slit

Stare out across the cinders of the world

With naked eyes.

They look both out and in

Knowing themselves

And too much else besides.

Drake died in the early hours of November 25, 1974. The coroner concluded his death was caused by self-inflicted amitriptyline poisoning, but many of those close to him disputed this conclusion, choosing to believe he took a large dose of the antidepressant in a desperate effort to relieve his depression and regain the optimism and happiness he once felt, rather than in a final moment of defeat by his condition.

In the 2000 biographical documentary, A Skin Too Few: The Days of Nick Drakehis sister, Gabrielle, responds to her brother’s unexpected posthumous mainstream fame:

“Of course, the only thing that makes sense of his death is his fame that is now coming about. I think, above all, it’s not his fame – it’s more the fact that a lot of young people have found his music such a help. And that, I think, would have pleased him so very, very much. He once said to my mother, ‘If only I could feel that my music had ever done anything to help one single person, it would’ve made it worth it.'”

Aside from the brief anecdotes from his limited number of friends and family, not much is known about Nick Drake. No video exists of him, either playing music or otherwise. He was a relatively private person, and his estate honors that. The music he left is all we have of him, but it is evermore valuable than any amount of video recording or interviews with the man. Drake put all of himself into his art – listen to any one of his songs, and his presence is strong – unmistakable.

He was a quiet and reserved figure, here one day to bring something beautiful to the world and gone the next all too soon, not unlike the fleeting beauty of Autumn.

Check out Nick Drake’s Pink Moon this Autumn, available on all major streaming services.

Pink Moon

Spotifyhttps://open.spotify.com/album/7KyvfoQhqlNLPNb98yY0pf

Apple Musichttps://itunes.apple.com/us/album/pink-moon-remastered/1286358

 

 

 

 

 

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About the Writer
Liam Gill, Arts Editor

Liam Gill is a senior. This is his first year writing for the the KnightWatch, and in addition to occasional op-ed pieces, he focuses on music and its...

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