This Day in Music History – Nathaniel Seer on Nick Drake

It was on this day in 1974 that singer-songwriter Nick Drake passed away.  Nathaniel Seer tells us how Drake’s music has been there for him, and how we should have been there for Drake.

Nick Drake. June 19, 1948 – November 25, 1974.

Let’s be honest. We didn’t know about Nick Drake, and we should have. I didn’t know his name, and neither did you. Not until the Volkswagen thing, anyway. I suppose we should thank them, because we wouldn’t be having this conversation otherwise.

June 19, 1948, Molly Drake gave birth to a son, Nick. The family lived then in Rangoon, Burma. Twenty-six years later Nick Drake died at his parent’s home in Warwickshire, England. During those intervening years Nick Drake lived a comfortable, upper-middle class life. He went to a fine prep-school. He learned music from his mother. He played in a band with friends. He attended university at Cambridge, studying English literature until his overriding interest in music moved him to quit school before completing his third year. By then he had begun experimenting on a twenty dollar acoustic guitar. He devised various open tunings and developed a unique fingerpicking method that would eventually become the signature of his sound. His lyrics, influenced by Blake and Yeats, reflected his rural upbringing, relying on language steeped in nature imagery. Often with Nick Drake the potency of his lyrics comes not in the composition of the line itself, rather from the melody through which the line is sung. Whether he was a genius, who can really say? However, one is challenged to find anything before or after which remotely resembles what Nick Drake was producing during his short time on Earth. And he worked in near obscurity. The year he died, those close to him recalled Drake’s frustration and disappointment over this. A fragile, quiet fellow to begin with, Nick Drake deteriorated from neglect.

When I think of it, I feel downhearted. How did we let this man make that music, and not tell him what it meant to us? Each of his three albums topped out around five thousand copies sold at initial release. His album sales in 2000, the year of the Volkswagen ad, surpassed his total combined album sales. Thirty years after his death and a car commercial, of all the unholy sacraments, is what delivers him to us? I don’t judge it shameful because the man missed out on a great fortune. It isn’t about money (though he did live on a meager $40 a week until his death). And I’m not bothered that it was the dirty practice of advertising that bestowed upon us the rare gift of truly substantive art. I am sorry for Nick Drake. We should have loved him, as many of us now do, when he could have actually heard us. We are the fortunate. We can hear him whenever we like. Nick Drake worked for five years writing and recording three masterful albums and yet heard little back in the way of gratitude.

I am thankful for Nick Drake. I listened to Nick Drake when I killed it with Glenda, sending her back to California with ultimatums. When she landed she called to say she had made other choices. Better choices. I listened to Nick Drake that morning when I drove my car east hoping to break from Krystal’s psychotic gravity. I listened to him every time after when I would call late nights to keep track of her. I listened to him loud when I gave it all up and came home only to find her forgetting me. I listened to him, and heard him best I think, when I toured America in solitude and felt for brief moments the comfort of a quiet universe churning steadily with no regard for me or my doings. Lately I hear him in all my moments of surrender, which come now with increasing frequency.

Nick Drake died five years prior to my birth. So I never even had the chance to tell him what his music meant to me. I blame us all for that circumstance. How long might our love have sustained him? No one can say, of course. Take heed, friends, and love what worthy artists you know. Exalt them when they are deserving. Perhaps we can make a penance for ignoring Nick Drake and all those like him who left this world without knowing our love.

I don’t believe in an afterlife. I am not religious. However, if I were, I would be tempted to print these words on paper and set it aflame so that some magic might carry the message to wherever Nick Drake now wanders, and he could know that his music meant something to me.

Nathaniel Seer is a singer-songwriter who shares a few of those mystical qualities we found in Drake’s music.  You can check it out here.

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