The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #126718   Message #2822369
Posted By: Phil Edwards
27-Jan-10 - 05:38 AM
Thread Name: Nick Drake - hype and reality
Subject: RE: Nick Drake - hype and reality
Will - that was a really useful comment, which has hopefully moved the debate on from the slightly defensive "ah, so you're saying he couldn't play?" rut it was getting into earlier. And I think you've put your finger on why Nick Drake became a cult figure to start with, and why he's now being hyped to the skies. As you said,

though unrecognised at the time [he] fitted retrospectively into the contemporary scene which he inhabited

From the Humphries biog, he didn't get anywhere commercially (or critically) essentially because he didn't put the work in - he made a couple of beautiful records and expected the world to beat a path to his door. And that, after his death, made him an icon for everyone who thought they could be the next Dylan/Django/Keats/... if only people would listen, but had no idea how to go about making them listen (and actually, deep down, no intention of trying). Which is to say, just about everyone at a certain age.

As you say, he wasn't another Django (or Dylan, or Keats). A couple of years' gigging and a bit of work on the stage-fright, and he could have been up there with Richard Digance* or Steve Tilston, easily; John Martyn, maybe; Ralph McTell at a pinch. But because the success he actually achieved was so minor, there's no realistic limit on the success he might have achieved. If you're playing support slots at folk clubs then you can aim at headlining folk clubs; if you're basically not gigging at all, except when somebody pulls some strings for you, you can aim at anything and everything, and blame fate or bad luck when none of it comes off. It's like playing two games of football and going down in history as a Pele that never was, not a reliable midfield clogger that never was.

The other half of the story - why the hype now - is, I think, about the but-not factor. We see this a lot any time anyone manages to get traditional song or dance onto the TV - it's morris dancing but not as you know it! he's a folk singer but not a dyed-in-the-wool traditionalist! it's folk music but without the leather elbow patches! And so on, and on. This isn't ultimately about perceptions of folk, so much as about the way the cultural hype industry works: you have to have a USP, there has to be a reason for focusing on this performer and not all the others. Of course, a healthy folk scene (or any other scene) is precisely about all the others. So Nick Drake isn't "a neglected singer-songwriter"**, he's "a singer-songwriter but not like all those other singer-songwriters", or "a folk singer but not the kind that sing about milkmaids and blacksmiths" (cheers, Danny).

Has anyone read the Trevor Dann biog, incidentally? I gather the idea is that he was crazy all along (Drake, not Dann). I read somewhere that he was on a major tranquilliser, usually prescribed for psychosis - the 'three drugs' the family doctor prescribed him were the Tryptizol, the major tranq and an anti-Parkinson drug (major tranqs have Parkinsonism as a side-effect). But this may just be early-70s prescribing. God knows how all of that would have played with the dope.

*This could have been a solution to the stagefright problem. Digance and Drake! One talks, one retunes!
**We should all be so neglected.