Sunday, December 4, 2011

Jam of the day, a surprising Rolling Stones lookalike, and ramblings on the evolution of communal listening experiences: Nick Drake / "Pink Moon"

Artist: Nick Drake
Album: Pink Moon
Song: "Pink Moon"
Released: 25 February 1972
Label: Island Records

Nick Drake is an incredible musician and an enigmatic figure in modern musical history. I undoubtedly underappreciated his music (and his life story) when first introduced to him by an older and wiser (and funnier) friend during my freshman year of college. I never let go of him, though, and over the years, I've developed a wonderful appreciation for his music. No one else's songs can actually cause physical chills to run through my limbs as I sit listening, feeling as if this person is reaching across time and space to play me a special show. No one.

I've never known too much about Nick's life, though; this is partly because no one really does, either. Precious few photographs of him exist, and no videos, leaving only his albums and a handful of demo tapes that have reappeared as a "home recordings" compilation to connect his past to our present. I was aware of his tragic story—depression and suicide in his early 20s—but never learned much beyond that, partly because I didn't know how and, I suppose, partly because I wasn't sure that I wanted/needed to. Something changed recently, though, and I found myself picking up Nick Drake: The Biography, by Patrick Humphries, from the local library.

It's a delightful read, and an honest and amibitious attempt to piece together as many facts and personal impressions as possible from contemporary sources—school friends, teachers, family, etc. I'm not even a third of the way into the book, and I already feel like several doors and windows into his music have opened, simultaneously casting some light on dark corners and bringing some dusty, cobwebby, depressing corners into view.

Earlier this year, I stumbled on a new vinyl copy of Pink Moon while out shopping for Record Store Day and snatched it up. It's great for early morning listening, settling down in the recliner with a cup of coffee for a wistful stare out the window. As I mentioned, I picked up this bio at the library about a month ago, and just last week, CC featured a video of a Volkswagen ad using "Pink Moon" in his 5 Songs Ruined By Commercials post. All signs pointed to sharing this song. So here it is. I beseech you, just turn off/tune out/forget about whatever you were doing just now and focus on this song. You'll feel rewarded for your earnest enthusiasm, trust me.

 Note: the top commenter's suggestion to run Rainymood simultaneously is a pretty good one.

On a lighter note, I've come across several amusing anecdotes in the biography thus far. One particularly amusing one is told by a high school friend about a summer road trip from Morocco to Chad during which their car broke down, forcing them to stop in the small town of Meknes. Their mechanic was suprisingly friendly and asked to take before-and-after photos of Nick and his pal with their car. They obliged, paid a small fee, and went on their merry way a few days later. On their way back through Tangiers, they were stopped by the local police and searched for drugs. Apparently, The Rolling Stones had toured through Morocco recently, and the mechanic mistook the boys for Mick and Keith, or something, their photo was published in the local paper, and they were subsequently pulled over and searched. Wild.

Another passage that struck me was more about the nature of the times—the 60s—and how the public interacted with music. The author and his interviewees note the connection between LP sleeves and joint rolling, and then discuss the sense of awareness of the musical charts, the communal nature of music listening, the social aspects:

"… in those days everyone knew what number one was. These days nobody knows, because the whole thing is so fragmented. I think accessibility to material was much more difficult, so there was much more of a sense of belonging to a cult. So if you managed a trip up to London and got hold of a copy of, I don't know, Mississippi John Hurt, this was like gold dust. People would come round and it would be an event to listen to it … I remember hiring the cellar in my college because I'd somehow or other managed to get hold of a first copy of Tommy, and actually playing it like a concert."

"Everyone took music much more seriously than we do these days. You'd gather together, sometimes people would be floating in and out of a particular room where people were smoking, they'd be playing records all day and people would come in and just sit, listening quite seriously all the way through The Beatles' White Album, and then drift off."

That just sounds incredible to me, and so entirely different from our modern technologically-oriented musical landscape. No iPods. No mixtapes, even. Just shared, long-player listening. Turntables and speakers, or headphones. Attentive listeners, active listeners, caring listeners. I'm sure this sounds odd to anyone from an older generation, but god damn I really wish things were like that now. Not completely, because I do appreciate the marvels of the internet and mp3s and all that new-fangled jazz, but … a big part of me longs for those past times (not "simpler times", mind you, though) where there was a sense of universal appreciation for music and art, of communal experience, of … something larger than ourselves, of an awareness of that, and of marveling at it. We need that again.

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