I think if there were any one album I wish I’d heard as a child, this would be the one. My first encounters with Nick Drake came much later than that however, a few years ago, when I heard the song “Road” (notably on Pink Moon) in a movie. Enchanted then, I let the name pass me by and instead obsessively listened to this one song, attempting (and failing!) to play it on my own guitar, with my grubby little unseasoned hands.
It’s not that the music of my childhood was bad—my clever mother whipped up an eclectic aural sampler for infant me to grow up on, one that included Elton John, ABBA, Amanda Marshal and Madonna, but never forgot about the importance of Buena Vista Social Club, Andrea Bocelli, Kiri Te Kanawa and various other dramatic operas. My father, to this day, listens almost exclusively to Classical music and operas. There were never any of the “essential” music capstones played in my house; my mother hates The Beatles and Fleetwood Mac, and failed to play me her favourite album by The Rolling Stones, Some Girls. I was left to discover all these (and many more!) treasures on my own at sixteen. My father’s version of the “Dad Rock” sub-type came in the form of Tchaikovsky, Liszt and Madama Butterfly.
My musical upbringing hasn’t been standard, or at least not in a way that I would perceive to be standard in comparing the songs of my childhood to those of my friends. Still, with such a creative pairing of genres to introduce as a backbone, it feels like there might have been something I missed out on besides the obvious names, and I have a sneaking feeling that Nick Drake was it.
The second time I heard Nick Drake was last winter, while visiting my father in Florida. I had just recently picked up a copy of the Garden State soundtrack, and we listened to it in the car on the way back from one of our day trips. That’s when, later that day, I decided to introduce myself to more of his music, and nearly a year later, here we are.
There’s something so wonderfully bedtime about this album, with its hushed sense of calm to coax us into a state of dumbfounded bewilderment. What I find particularly genius about it, is that the only instrument featured on this release (aside from vocals, of course, and the exception of a tiny flash of piano accompaniment on the title track) is guitar. This is especially riveting because of the lavish, full, richness of sound unfolding on each track, and how it all traces back to one solitary instrument. It never feels hollow or lacking, and this concept in principle is what makes the album so magical.
Pink Moon was first released in February of 1972 under Island Records, and marked Drake’s third and final album before his death in 1974. And though he remained true to a very familiar vain of Folk Acoustica popularizing in the early seventies (i.e. Jim Croce, Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell, to name a few), his music most certainly pushed ahead of its time with its careful, elaborate crafting, punchy lyrics, and strong Baroque influence. Genius. His popularity only really came about following his death, however, and while I find it preposterous that he lived and wrote in the shadows without much of a fuss made over his work, I too was late to catch this train.
All eleven tracks on Pink Moon together come out just shy of thirty minutes, making this quite the pocket-sized gem. Short, sweet and everlasting, there is a sense of familiarity with the feeling and emotion in the scores that gives the album the impression of being lived-in, by you, even during your first listen. It’s as if it has been with you your whole life, you just haven’t thought to notice it until you go searching. And, the more this album is listened to, naturally the more familiar it becomes, in a more visceral way than I had ever thought possible. It really does parallel the feeling of breaking in a pair of shoes quite nicely, or looking through old photographs you were too young to remember being taken.
Which makes me think that if Pink Moon feels this much at home to me now, with my first encounter with it at nineteen, was it ever really missing from my childhood? Of course when I hear Nick Drake I remember Florida: the way my father’s apartment smelled of honey and trees, all the boiled peanuts we ate, and my body getting caked with sea salt from the beach. Yet miraculously, it also feels like every summer day, every car ride, every birthday and every new pair of school shoes I’ve encountered in my earlier years, all wrapped up sonically, tapping into my brain to release waves of nostalgia. Magic.
And so, I offer you this little send-off to help in waving a kiss to 2015 and entering the new year with a sense of home within yourself, rooted deep in your heart.
Keep an ear out for: “Pink Moon” (my favourite!), “Road”, “Horn” and “From the Morning”
Happy New Year, you restless musical souls, you boats against the current, you.
All the best on this new wave,