Out of the stereo speakers comes the sound of the low strings of an acoustic guitar. A pattern emerges from the sounds and then a voice appears, also low and breathy. Three hours from sundown . . . The lyrics impart a story that matches the spare, haunted landscape of the music. It is a story about flight, about escaping a place without fully knowing where you are going. In this way the song is also about a search a search dictated more by a muse than by a plan. Such was the life and music of Nick Drake. Born in Burma to an upper-middle class English family, Drake, his parents, and his older sister returned to England when he was a young boy. The young Nick was educated in public school and then went on to Cambridge to study literature. The 1960s electrified Cambridge, and in the burgeoning scene Drake expanded his passion for music and the guitar. After leaving Cambridge, Drake landed a recording deal with a then up-and-coming folk producer named Joe Boyd and proceeded to record three albums for release on a young label named Island Records. Then at 26 Drake was found dead by his mother in their family home. The Drakes had lost their only son and the world an incredible talent.
Given a brief outline on Drake's life one can turn to Patrick Humphries's new biography in order to flesh out the details. Though neither Drake's sister nor his producer conceded to talk to Humphries about the lost brother/singer-songwriter, Humphries's research turns up everyone from schoolyard chums to session musicians and scenesters who knew the artist and the man. Almost all who knew Drake paint a portrait of a fragile, introverted man who seemed too delicate for this world. Humphries great talent as a biographer comes in bringing this ephemeral character to light against the backdrop of the English folk scene of the '60s and '70s. Drake's dislike of performing live as well as doing interviews left little material to research. Poor record sales combined with an inherent manic-depressive condition finally took their toll on the troubled man. In the end Humphries's biography serves as a wonderful tribute to a lost soul an almost Robert Johnson-like singer and guitarist whose muse eventually drew him from our world.
Charles Wyrick plays guitar for the band Stella.