In Praise of Greatness: Deciphering Nick Drake

Nick Drake

Guitarist and teacher Josh Turner has posted a video on his YouTube channel with an insightful breakdown of Nick Drake’s tone. Turner does a great job of unpacking Drake’s technique, and his playing is solid.

When I listen to Nick Drake I feel as though I’m occupying a personal space with the artist, and this is in large part due to the style and tone he brings to his material. Fluid, articulate, and tonally unique, Drake’s playing is never unintentional or rote. Still, for as singular as it is, it never strikes me as an idiosyncratic novelty.

What can’t be so easily deciphered is the source of the power and evocative impact of Drake’s work. Pink Moon, Bryter Later, and Five Leaves Left define a varied range of emotional territory. From the pensive (Pink Moon‘s title track) to jaunty autobiography (Man in A Shed from Five Leaves Left) to confessional (Pink Moon’s Parasite) – no one sounds like Nick Drake.

Drake, who died in 1974 at the age of 26, was a genius songwriter and guitarist who was woefully under-appreciated during his life. Much has been written about him since then, including what looks to be a wonderful scrapbook, reviewed here on BoingBoing.net by Gareth Branwyn.

You can hear the impact of his work in the recordings of artists like Elliot Smith, Iron & Wine, and The Cure.

While Drake’s work enjoyed solid cult status for years, familiarity increased dramatically when Volkswagen used the moody, demure, and cryptic Pink Moon in a broadcast commercial.

While this overt commercialization struck many as hard to appreciate, the power of this spot is largely a result of its appreciation for the evocative nature of Drake’s work.

A Skin Too Few, released in 2002,  does a good job of telling his story. And while much is left unanswered – such as the cause of his death – what’s clear is that this artist lived, and died, for his work.

Nick Drake A Skin Too Few – The Days of Nick Drake documentary from Daniel Elias on Vimeo.

H/T to BoingBoing.net for the Josh Turner video.