When you look at many folk artists of today, you’ll find that many will cite British singer-songwriter Nick Drake as a major influence. When I first heard his music a few years ago, I was surprised to see it was written decades ago. Most of it is timeless, and can be enjoyed for years to come. I was sad to see that Nick was on this Earth for a very short time: only 26 years. The last album he recorded before his death, Pink Moon, had the most powerful impact on me. Its lyrical themes of sadness and loneliness offer insight into his diminishing condition. Like other troubled musicians, such as Elliot Smith, and Ian Curtis of Joy Division, Drake died by his own hand.
Not only is Nick Drake singing and playing about loneliness, but he’s singing and playing alone. Contrary to his other albums, Pink Moon consists of only Nick and his guitar (and maybe an added piano bit to the title track). He happened to be a very talented guitar player, particularly when it came to finger picking. Not a lot of his tuning was conventional, but one can’t argue the arrangements properly articulated what he was feeling at the time. It was the months following Pink Moon’s release that he became increasingly antisocial. He became very distant from his friends and family, and would take spontaneous drives out. There was never a destination in mind, and the drives would only end when the car was out of gas. His hygiene also diminished at this time, and in early 1972 he actually had a nervous breakdown. His mental and social health didn’t improve over the next couple years, and in 1974 he was found dead of an amitriptyline overdose. He was taking antidepressants at the time, and was also supposedly preparing to work on music again and move to London. This causes some speculation as to whether his death was suicide or not, but considering his history with depression, I find it difficult to believe otherwise.
And so Pink Moon is a rather bleak album, to say the least. It is also immensely short, which is perhaps a good thing, coming and going in only 28 minutes. The title track starts the record off, and although I don’t know what the pink moon is, I do know it’s gonna “get ye all.” The majority of the songs that follow present Nick’s detachment from the world around him. It is as if he wasn’t really living in society, but merely watching it from afar. Put simply on the song ‘Know:’ “Know that I’m not there.” Perhaps he had a disdain for society? He never did any promotion for his albums, and consequently they didn’t sell. He also hated performing. If he did have a strong dislike of others, evidence could be seen of this in ‘Things Behind The Sun,’ in which he warns to “beware of them that stare,” and “once you’ve seen what they have been, to win the earth just won’t seem worth your night or your day.” He certainly didn’t appear to feel a sense of belonging. This theme is primarily in ‘Parasite,’ a song about a drifter stumbling in and out of station bars to travel “far in sin.” He is only ever an observer or forgotten friend. Given the knowledge of his life, you discover how honest his lyrics are. Despite it being an early track, number two, I feel the most emotion in ‘Place To Be.’ It’s about getting older, and getting darker. It’s about feeling out of place in the world, and feeling alone. The themes are universal. “I was greener, greener than the hill, where flowers grew and sun shone still. Now I’m darker than the deepest sea, just hand me down, give me a place to be.”
If there was ever an album that was heartbreakingly honest and true to the artist’s sensibility, Pink Moon is it. It was his last album, released just before the lowest period in his life, which ended with his untimely death. It is tragic, and probably best listened to in moderation (think Beck’s 2002 release, Sea Change). If you haven’t heard it before, give it a shot. You won’t regret it. Unless, that is, you’re feeling a little down.