My opening line might create the inaccurate impression that I am referring to the whole of the lives of Nick and Molly Drake. I am not. Nick’s sister, Gabrielle Drake, has gone to some pains to point out that in fact their lives were happy until the eruption of Nick’s tragic depressive illness. People often remark about Drake’s work being “melancholy.” I don’t find that to be true—and particularly not true of the music in Pink Moon, to which my poem is a direct, ecstatic response. The music—especially the marvelous guitar—is strong, enormously compelling. I believe it puts you into a sort of trance, that it “holds” you: you don’t want it to end. In this sense, the music is a refuge from reality. As long as it lasts, you’re outside your problems, free. When the music stops working, however, appalling “reality” is all you have. (T.S. Eliot: “Music heard so deeply / That it is not heard at all, but you are the music / While the music lasts”—“The Dry Salvages.”)
It can be put in another way as well: that sense of beauty and insistence, the elements that hold you in his music, come from a place outside his then current existence. It’s here, I think, that the happiness that Gabrielle speaks of enters. The happiness and joy that Nick Drake had experienced is “in” the music at a time when it was not in his life—when his sickness had taken over. It’s there as a nostalgia, a desire, a fantasy at exactly the moment when other forces had him in their grip.
NICK & MOLLY
The incredible sadness of their lives
This mother-son duo
Talent ringing out of them like air
“Living grows round us like a skin
To shut away the outer desolation”
They grow together, as their ashes mingle
“That’s very good,” says the husband as the piano notes fade
“Everyone says I’m a genius. Why do my records not sell? Why do I have no money?”
Everything came to them. In Death
Everything was perfect.
Perfect was everything.
Death in them too
Death in money
No, have I? Do? Why?
Records my do. Why?
I’m, says everyone—fade notes, piano
The A’s husband the says, “Good, very, that’s—”
Together grow they in death
Desolation, outer, the away, shut to
Skin, A, like us, round grows living
Air like them, of out-ringing talent
Duo, son-mother, this
Lives their of sadness incredible the.
Reading by Jack and Adelle Foley
Video montage: Claire Palmer