Wednesday, July 21, 2010

album of the day: Five Leaves Left

Nick Drake is not my hero, although he was crazy, which a lot of my heroes have been.

Drake died in 1974 of a probably accidental overdose of antidepressants (which were pretty crude in 1974), having released only three albums of his quiet, brooding music to little commercial fanfare. He apparently suffered tremendous social anxiety and had a hell of a time performing in public - to which I can certainly relate - so his studio recordings were sort of orphans left to fend for themselves in the big bad music world. And they're too quiet, too fragile, to live off the streets.

His guitar work is pretty freaking exquisite. His compositions are not terrifically complex, but with his instrument tuned mainly in various non-standard ways, the tunes come across as built funny. In any case, he played with precision and just a terrific touch. If Fahey had a genius for bent melody, Drake had a genius for loveliness.

On Five Leaves Left, his 1969 debut, Island Records gave him Fairport Convention guitarist Richard Thompson and Pentangle bassist Danny Thompson, as well as a string section, for a supporting cast. And although the strings get a little too rich for my blood, I've got no argument against the Non-Brothers Thompson - in particular Danny's work on "Three Hours" really makes the track work. Anyway, that support showed Island's commitment to Drake, in my opinion; but Drake only toured reluctantly, and, I've read, with some petulance.

You definitely get a sense of his general feeling of ill-fitting the world around him from his lyrics. For instance, the opening track, "Time Has Told Me":

Time has told me
You're a rare rare find
A troubled cure
For a troubled mind

And time has told me
Not to ask for more
Someday our Ocean
Will find its shore

Then there's the autobiographical "Man In A Shed":

Well there was a man
Lived in a shed
Spent most of his days out of his head
For his shed was rotten let in the rain
Said it was enough to drive any man insane
When it rained
He felt so bad
When it snowed he felt just simply sad

So, yes, I have to confess that Nick Drake is not allowed in the house. I'm not sure how I'd feel about him being here. What do you do with a massively talented songwriter, singer, and above all, guitarist, who doesn't really want to talk to you or play for you?

While I'm at it, I'd like to say that it bugs the shit out of me that Nick Drake songs keep appearing in TV commercials. A couple years ago it was VW using "Pink Moon," which (a) makes no sense whatsoever as a commercial jingle, and (b) seems to be about being followed by a pink moon whose intent is to cause grievous harm. Lately, it's been AT&T using "From The Morning," which at least doesn't seem to be foretelling astronomical doom, but still bothers me. You know what it is? It's that the songs are used because they're pleasant, sweet, lovely melodies played by this sweet, lovely dead guitarist who was a depressed recluse his whole adult life. It's in such incredibly poor taste. It may even bother me more than John Lennon's "Revolution" being used by Nike. Um, nah.

No comments: