Friday, October 22, 2010

"If songs were lines/In a conversation/The situation would be fine."

The Song: "Hazey Jane II," Nick Drake. Words & music by Nick Drake. Track 2 of Bryter Later, 1970.
How/when acquired: Purchased CD, 2004.
Listen/watch here.

I often think I'd communicate more effectively if I could just carry around my iPod and play songs for people, rather than try to put words together myself. Presumably that's the point of mix tapes, or at least the point of mix tapes that aren't assembled for the sole purpose of impressing someone with one's musical taste (I've gotten a few of those).

The music of Nick Drake (1948-74) has enjoyed something of a revival over the past decade, at least in part because it's been part of several TV advertising campaigns (VW, AT&T). But I discovered him because his music is a key element in Phil Rickman's fine novel The Wine of Angels, which launched his Merrily Watkins series. A major character in the novel (and in the series to follow) is obsessed with Nick Drake's music, and more dangerously with the legacy of his early death. I am old enough to understand that there's nothing romantic about early death; it's just wasteful, and it makes me angry as much as it makes me sad. But Rickman wrote so beautifully about the music that I had to find it for myself.

Nick Drake only made three studio albums, and I bought them all: Five Leaves Left, Bryter Later, and Pink Moon. (A compilation of unreleased home recordings, Family Tree, was released in 2007; I don't have it.) The music is light but heartfelt, almost mystical, and formed the soundtrack for the six weeks I spent waiting to move from Los Angeles to Maine. Nick Drake's death — an overdose of anti-depressants — may or may not have been deliberate, but he made it clear that he never felt at home in the world. During my own period of homelessness, it was exactly what I needed.

Blatant self-promotion alert: A piece I wrote to mark Agatha Christie's 120th birthday is now up on Gale-Cengage's Books & Authors blog. Check it out here.

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