Thursday, 12 January 2012

Darker Than the Deepest Sea:The Search for Nick Drake by Trevor Dann book review in The Daily Yomiuri on 16th December 2006

Singer sought silence
By Stephen Taylor / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

Darker Than the Deepest Sea:
The Search for Nick Drake
By Trevor Dann
Da Capo Press, 288 pp, 16.95 dollars

Nick Drake recorded only 31 songs in his short life, but since his death 32 years ago he has gained almost legendary status in the world of rock music.

In Darker than the Deepest Sea: The Search for Nick Drake, Trevor Dann, former Head of BBC Music Entertainment and producer of Live Aid, takes the reader through the life and death of the singer-songwriter in a biography that will appeal not only to diehard fans of the enigmatic Englishman but also to anyone with an interest in the human story behind Drake's melancholic state of mind.

Drake's story is not a tale of working-class hero makes good. Born into an affluent, British colonial household in Rangoon (now Yangon), he grew up in a village near England's second biggest city, Birmingham, that Dann describes as having "a landscape for dreamers and philosophers."

Educated at the prestigious Marlborough College, followed by Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, Drake was a classic product of the English upper middle class.

Dann guides the reader through Drake's life and music in a manner that sustains your attention, making the book accessible yet thoughtful. He avoids the temptation to get too analytical, but does not gloss over important details.

His chapters on Drake's music are very well written, particularly on his debut album, Five Leaves Left. Dann's interviews with people involved in the recording of the record, both in London and Cambridge (where he was still a student), provide the reader with an insight into the moneyed social scene that Drake frequented, as well as the burgeoning English folk scene at a time when Fairport Convention and Jethro Tull were just starting out.

Dann's descriptions of the songs on Drake's albums and the stories behind their inception are so evocative that I was inspired to rummage around for my old copy of Five Leaves Left, while anyone without a copy will surely be tempted to find out what they've been missing.

A lot of space is devoted to Drake's mental condition. Dann suggests that heavy cannabis use contributed to his poor mental health, backing up his claim with a quote from a British Medical Journal editorial in 2002 that "the link between cannabis and psychosis was 'well established.'"

There has been much speculation over whether Nick Drake's death from an overdose of antidepressant drugs was suicide, a cry for help or an accident.

Any premature death is tragic, but suicide is particularly difficult for a family to bear, and Dann relates the circumstances of the night of Drake's death in fine detail and with sensitivity.

He tells us the last record he listened to was Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, but doesn't forget smaller points, such as "at about six in the morning he got up and went to the kitchen where he ate a bowl of cornflakes in cold milk."

He also tells of a letter addressed to an old female friend and a book full of the hand-written lyrics of all his songs that were found in his room.

Based on his early lyrics, the "live fast, die young" attitude of rock music at that time and romantic notions of early death, Dann concludes that Drake committed suicide, comparing him to an earlier man of words and describing Drake as: "A latter-day Thomas Chatterton, England's first romantic poet, who took his own life in 1770, aged just 17. Like Chatterton, Nick couldn't cope with failure.

"If it hadn't have happened on November 25, 1974, it would probably have happened soon afterwards."

Based on the evidence put forth, I would have to agree. Drake's history of mental illness and the letter written to a loved one the night before his death both suggest suicidal behavior. And according to Dann's book, Drake reportedly had tried to hang himself at home the previous year.

Dann speculates that if Drake were starting out today, "He would probably have made his music on his own and e-mailed it to a record company or even distributed it himself via the Internet. That sense of mystery would have appealed to him."

Mystery is an apt word when talking about Drake. In Darker than the Deepest Sea, Dann successfully tackles a good deal of the conundrums that peppered the life of one of rock music's great enigmas.

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