Darker Than The Deepest Sea: The Search For Nick Drake
Nick Drake was tailor-made for cultdom — a broodingly handsome man whose fragile, gloomy music wouldn’t find much of an audience until years after his death at age 26. That he famously predicted this outcome in “Fruit Tree” (“Safe in your place, deep in the earth/That’s when they’ll know what you were really worth,” sentiments which author Trevor Dann calls “almost [Drake’s] mission statement”) only added to his appeal.
Dann tries to unravel the enigma of Nick Drake, and if he only partially succeeds, that’s more due to Drake himself being an enigma even to his closest friends throughout his short life. Dann follows Drake’s path from his birth in India, his privileged childhood in the idyllic village of Tanworth-in-Arden, Warwickshire, his days at Cambridge where he took his first steps into the music world, and his post-college spiral into a fatal depression.
His account is embellished by plenty of interviews with those who knew and/or worked with Drake, from teachers and friends to producer Joe Boyd to admirers such as Robyn Hitchcock. He also delves into the kind of detail that a rabid fan can appreciate, giving step-by-step directions to Drake’s dorm room in Cambridge, for example, and noting that a park bench where Drake was photographed sitting “has now been removed.”
But there are times when you wish for a bit more detail, as when Dann makes cryptic references to a traumatic childhood sexual experience Drake may have undergone, but gives no further details, beyond saying it would “irresponsible” to comment on “unsubstantiated rumors.” There’s also a tantalizing description of Drake and his university friends running into the Rolling Stones while in Marrakech and sharing a “quite interesting” conversation with them. As Dann interviewed one of Drake’s friends who was present, you wish he’d pushed to find out more about this particular conversation. Quibbles, perhaps, but for a book that takes its care in examining every step of Drake’s life, not unreasonable to mention.
Dann’s back to digging in when examining Drake’s death, which was believed to be a suicide but possibly could have been an accident as well. And it’s intriguing to look back at a time when record companies weren’t totally lashed to hype: The press release promoting Drake’s last album, Pink Moon, wasn’t afraid to note, “His first two albums haven’t sold a shit.” A discography critiques every released track (and some unreleased ones as well).