cover image Nick Drake

Nick Drake

Patrick Humphries. Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, $24.95 (279pp) ISBN 978-1-58234-006-7

English singer/songwriter Nick Drake was a nearly unknown cult figure when he died from an overdose of antidepressants in 1974, but the number of his admirers has grown steadily ever since. Musicians in particular are drawn to his delicate, melancholy folk tunes and to the legend of his depressive isolation and suicide at age 26. Humphries, Drake's first biographer, faced difficult working conditions without the cooperation of Drake's producer, Joe Boyd, or of Drake's family, and without even permission to quote Drake's lyrics. Still, he has done his legwork, although exact causes of Drake's decline remain unclear. Interviews with schoolboy chums reveal that, far from being withdrawn, Drake engaged in normal boyish hijinks. And although he was frustrated by his lack of success, it appears that Drake was doomed to obscurity by his own refusal to allow Island records to promote him, rather than by the indifference of the music world. Futhermore, although Drake certainly was drawn into the drug culture surrounding the London music scene of the late '60s, his involvement was apparently not enough to explain his downfall. Though a skillful and engaging writer, Humphries tends to go overboard with setting the scene: he manages to discuss the sinking of the Titanic, the British role in Burma and the Brontes before getting to Drake's birth. Although unable to solve the mystery of his death, Humphries does manage to make the singer seem more human, albeit at the expense of Drake's romantic myth. Photos. (Dec.)