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Nick Drake: The Life

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Obviously it is a step which we have to consider carefully, because it is an irrevocable one,” he began, going on to pose two vital questions: “Are you more or less likely to succeed at your chosen career if you leave now? So I think those two factors combined to accelerate his low self-esteem and questioning of what he was doing with his life. I found it quite sad that his parents – latterly, after his death – repeatedly said (and perhaps came to believe) that towards the end of his life Nick had been happier than they’d ever seen him and so on. RMJ: I think it speaks well for Joe that, although he strongly disagreed with Nick on the subject of the instrumentals, he ultimately did what Nick wanted, not what he wanted. But the hardest task in writing the book was trying to streamline the last part, because there is just a lot of relentless material in Nick’s father’s diary.

Volkswagen used Pink Moon’s title track in an ad in 1999, prompting a fresh upsurge of interest in his oblique pastorals.But I would say, on a tangent of sorts, that another myth about Nick is that ‘Robert Kirby wrote the arrangements’, that the arrangements were just grafted onto Nick’s songs. It builds on everything that has gone before and adds so much detail it can seem, at times, overwhelming.

So I think Nick was isolated from his audience to the extent that maybe he didn’t even realise there was an audience. On the second aspect – what advantages unconnected with your career may you be throwing away – there is not a great deal to say except that it is a rounded personality which is most likely to lead its owner on a happy and full road though life. So there was a growing interest straight away – and this was before he was being revered as a James Dean-type figure.

I think Richie was the first person who read a draft of the book, about a year ago, more or less as soon as I finished it. What do you think the book does most to set straight about Nick and his career, whether it’s incidents or his character? These endless collaborations, sessions that were full of seemingly unlikely or disparate people making coherent music together, were taken as read then, I think, and Joe was all about the collaborations, that was the essence of Witchseason. Nick’s relationship to the finished album is unknown, and it’s likely his family and friends were unaware of it until it was released.

Most people’s memories of Nick match up uncannily, even if they’d never heard of each other and never met him together. The winning of a degree may seem to bear little significance to you, and the argument that it is a safety net if you come a cropper with your music will doubtless evoke the response that a safety net is just what you don’t want. Rodney later wrote that it was made “when Nick was getting pretty bad, and it’s rather ‘way out’, as they say”. We in fact got quite chatty with them, and it was quite interesting learning all the inside stories.And I feel there’s an irony about my book, which is that there’s now more knowledge about Nick available than there is about absolute megastars, Jimmy Page or Mick Jagger, say, whose private worlds remain a mystery because they keep them that way, meaning their public face and books are drawn from pretty superficial interviews and so on. Morton Jack's book dispels the myth that he was always a depressive loner (though that is what he became in his last 3 years, his illness related in excruciatingly painful detail in the final chapters). But I think Nick was probably quite a maddening person to be involved with as a young… well, he was always young, sadly, but as a teenager, because he obviously had talents, he obviously had abilities, he was charismatic and younger people respected him at school, this was recognised, he was a good leader and so on. I knew exactly what Nick was doing for much of the time – what he was watching on TV, what he was eating. Although he was an English singer-guitarist whose unconventional tunings and numinous lyrics set him apart, even in a crowded folk revival field, a chasm had opened up between the promise of his talent and his meagre public profile.

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