New comp of demos and outtakes fails to breath much life into the dead singer's legacy...
[a]Courtney Love[/a] recently said that, despite all her troubles, she ain’t about to top herself because she hasn’t yet seen the photo – like the one of [a]Kurt Cobain[/a] in eyeliner – that will accompany her obit.
My blood ran cold. Not just because I selected
the eyeliner shot for the NME cover when Kurt died, but because of her callous approach to
the mechanics of immortality.
But truth is, we secretly love it when rock stars die. And the more mysterious and premature
the death, the better. A good rock death affords us a rare glimpse of eternity as we eagerly recast the artist’s work and life into one body, pregnant with the inevitable symptoms of tragedy. So it was with [a]Nick Drake[/a]. Before he overdosed on anti-depressants in 1974, the world largely ignored him – just another mewling singer-songwriter among thousands. His dark nights of the soul were nothing to do with the weight of fame, like that piled upon poor Kurt until he blew his face in. Quite the opposite. Today’s thriving [a]Nick Drake[/a] industry is built solely upon the irony that not being wealthy and famous in his lifetime was a contributing factor in the depression that led to his death.
But once he’d gone, the autopsy on his neglected career revealed – oh joy! – that he had died gorgeous and young, leaving a meagre clutch of deliciously moody photos and a mere three albums that appeared to unravel a tale of sheer melancholic perfection. The lush, autumnally exuberant ‘Five Leaves Left’ , followed by the more commercially-focused failure ‘Bryter Layter’ and then the stark majesty of 1972’s ‘Pink Moon’ – tapes of which were left without ceremony on the reception desk at Island’s offices – seemed to unveil a man and his talent in the gradual process of ceasing to exist.
He ceased to gig. He ceased to talk. He just stopped being. But – and here’s another irony – although we gladly reincarnate Nick Drake as an unblemished martyr to an uncaring world, we just can’t help demanding more. Hence the universal rapture that greeted the news that, among the many cleaned-up outtakes and orchestral reinventions (a stripped-down ‘Riverman’, a string-drenched ‘Time Of No Reply’) that make up ‘Made To Love Magic’, there is a newly discovered track, ‘Tow The Line’, which was found lurking like the Holy Grail at the end of a tape of old demos. The track is raw and sounds as desperate as the other songs on the same tape, including the harrowing ‘Black Eyed Dog’. They might have been meant for a new Nick Drake album. They might not. Maybe they would have been chucked away – ‘Tow The Line’ is nowhere near his finest work – or perhaps polished up with big brass bands. We don’t know. All we can be sure of is that, like [a]Kurt Cobain[/a], this track was not meant for release like this and to herald its rawness as symbolic of Drake’s decline is just a wilful misreading of the facts. In fact, if Nick Drake was alive today, bald, fat and shuffling around his garden in a cardigan like [a]Pink Floyd[/a] casualty [a]Syd Barrett[/a], it’s certain it would never have been dug up in the first place. It’s taken a death to give this stuff life – not a trade-off we should encourage.