cover image Nick Drake: The Life

Nick Drake: The Life

Richard Morton Jack. Hachette, $32.50 (576p) ISBN 978-0-306-83495-0

Morton Jack (Psychedelia), cofounder of the reissue label Sunbeam Records, delivers the definitive biography of English folk singer-songwriter Nick Drake (1948–1974), who died from an overdose on antidepressants at 26 following a protracted struggle with mental illness. Mining interviews with friends and family, Morton Jack paints a tender portrait of a musician known for his “husky, resonant” voice, “intricate” guitar playing, and a deep introversion that belied his “ambitious streak” and desire for commercial success. His albums—the lovingly orchestrated Five Leaves Left (1969), pop-influenced Bryter Layter (1971), and spare Pink Moon (1972)—initially failed to gain traction, however, and by the time Drake began to garner international recognition in 1973, he’d started to spiral into probable psychosis, according to Morton Jack. His work was later repackaged and released in several album compilations from the 1980s to the 2000s and has “never lost momentum since.” Drake’s longtime producer, Joe Boyd, attributes the music’s continued relevance to “the fact that... it’s not identified with a particular time and place, which allows each generation to create its own connection.” While Morton Jack sometimes makes too much of certain aspects of the artist’s life (including Drake’s apparent lack of academic motivation in secondary school), he sets out an engrossing and ultimately heartwrenching account. (The sections on Drake’s steady descent into depression are especially affecting.) The result is a worthy tribute to a talented artist gone too soon. (Nov.)