Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Book Review: Nick Drake, Remembered for a While

The just-released don't-call-it-a-biography will please both the casual fan and obsessive completist of Nick Drake's music. For starts, it is in large part the work of Nick's sister, Gabrielle, who wanted to personally correct the misconceptions, myths, and legends that have been told about her brother since his tragic death in 1974. When facts and details are sparse, the human mind produces a convincing facsimile of truth.

Nick Drake: Remembered for a While is beautifully designed, particularly showcasing Drake's handwritten lyrics. But in the midst of beauty comes numerous anecdotes from those who knew him when he was alive. It seems that most people, aside from family, found him distant and secretive. He curiously had no documented love life, few (if any) partners, and gives the impression at times of almost being asexual. Though at times his lyrics entertain the idea of romance and love, he does not elaborate. Outside commentators have suggested Drake might have been gay and closeted. Though this is possible, it is impossible to prove convincingly.    
Some know of Nick Drake the depressive more than the folk musician, and, to be sure, that information is provided as well. The most harrowing passage comes transcribed directly from the journals that Nick's father kept to document his son's daily struggles. Some were better than others, but it is clear that for the last two unhappy years of his life he was a semi-recluse. During this last period, he produced a total of four new songs, but was in no condition to record upon arrival at the studio. He rarely left his childhood home and the company of his parents, passing away at only 26 due to what the family insists was an accidental, or at least incautious overdose of antidepressant medication.

During his lifetime, as has often been noted, Nick Drake's pathological shyness meant that he played few live shows. A list provided early in the book documents the handful of gigs he performed, which are more than one might initially think, but far fewer than needed for greater success. But he did play enough gigs to attract the attention of Joe Boyd, the American emigre and up-and-coming record producer.

Boyd had produced the first single and a live recording of a group then called The Pink Floyd. He now sought to commit Nick's music to tape. The British music press gave Drake's first album, Five Leaves Left, scant notice, as they would for the whole of the short time he was actively recording.

Past thinkers have tried to posthumously diagnose Drake from a psychiatric standpoint. The book never makes a formal medical judgment. We know that Nick Drake was a depressive personality who, at least part of the time, took medication to treat it. At the end of his life, he toyed with the idea of electroshock therapy but never committed to it. Psychiatry was not nearly as evolved forty years ago, but in fairness he never took medication long enough for it to reach its optimum effectiveness, a far-too-common complaint with those who suffer with mental illness.

As intended, this book is the authorized companion to the music of Nick Drake. Fans should dig out their copies of his albums to play along with their reading. The book somewhat cautiously reveals the most sensitive information, not willing to resort to sensationalizing. But what awaits us is the most intimate and complete rendering of yet another musician who died at too young an age.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Doctor My Eyes

Doctor, my eyes have seen the years
And the slow parade of fears without crying
Now I want to understand

I have done all that I could
To see the evil and the good without hiding
You must help me if you can

Doctor, my eyes, tell me what is wrong
Was I unwise to leave them open for so long?

'Cause I have wandered through this world
And as each moment has unfurled
I've been waiting to awaken from these dreams

People go just where they will
I never noticed them until I got this feeling
That it's later than it seems

Doctor, my eyes, tell me what you see
I hear their cries, just say if it's too late for me

Doctor, my eyes, cannot see the sky
Is this the price for having learned how not to cry?

Monday, December 15, 2014

Suffer Unto Us

But Jesus called them unto him, and said, "Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God."

The majesty and eloquence of the King James Bible does this passage well.

Laws and statutes, lawyers and judges, each of these have granted leniency for minors. This is thought to give childhood offenders the chance to redeem themselves before they reach adulthood. It is my opinion that we ought to consider extending the same fair consideration to those of legal age. While I believe in the rule of law and do not consider my own judgment necessarily superior to those of the professionals, I think that many harsh policies which sound good upon proposal often ultimately backfire. Such was the fate of three-strikes-and-you're-out.

In many states, paradoxically those who have declined additional federal funding, Medicaid requirements extend coverage to children, but not to childless adults. I'm sure it gives some politician or bureaucrat great pleasure to trim newly turned 18-year-olds from the rolls, saving money in the process.  By implication, rules and regulations value young lives more than older ones. Television commercials beg us to think of the children, showing poverty-stricken, fly-infested, and emaciated children from the Third World.

The novelty of some foreign land on a different continent can't open checkbooks soon enough. The poverty of African-Americans across town, however, are not treated with the same way. We don't need interpreters or television commentators to explain to us what we see on the wrong side of the tracks, on the other side of town.  ­­­­­­

Why do we value the lives of children in ways that we do not adults? It is true that children are generally impressionable, vulnerable, and easy to deceive. Criminals are supposedly the most evil and corrupted among us, but many of them retain a soft spot for kids.

As I've noted a time or two before, the reason that Medicaid in the District of Columbia, where I call home, offers full dental coverage is due to the tragic death of a child whose severely abscessed tooth led to his death. His parents let the abscess progress to a fatal state because they lacked the money to pay for the procedure. If this had happened to an adult instead, I wonder if the status quo would still be in place.

The 1931 German movie M tells a story of a child serial killer. When the police prove clueless and ineffective, organized crime takes over. A serial killer who preys on children is simply bad for business. In one memorable scene, the actor, a young Peter Lorre, is tried before a jury of his peers, that being his fellow criminals. One hopes that our society does not degenerate enough that the police are ineffective and incompetent. Justice in America, not the Weimar Republic, is, in some ways, the very opposite. It is too aggressive and too punitive.

We ought to treat everyone as though they could quite possibly possess the trusting innocence and purity of a child. Jesus told us that we won't attain the Kingdom of God unless we enter his spiritual kingdom on those terms. His implication was not that we be childish, but that we instead be childlike, pushing our skepticism and doubting aside. A strictly logical and cynical person might find this concept threatening and not especially empowering, but letting go has its place.

Many Quakers have felt led to prison ministry, which is hard work. It is true that prisons hold remorseless sociopaths, but they also hold those who are victims of circumstance. Our national discourse has talked about the vast numbers of black men who are currently incarcerated. It's easy to throw up walls, literally and figuratively. If our very salvation depends upon trust and cooperation, we have sadly gone astray. I'm not inclined to froth at the mouth, nor to use forceful, coarse language to illustrate my points, instead to angle for truths even a child could understand.

The initial outrage is over. Everyone must now work together. Having now identified the problem, we must enter into solemn, sacred covenant with each other. The American people need to sign a peace treaty, a legally binding document that will allow us greater comprehension and communication with each other. It should not be a half-measure, a compromise, or a document written out of barely restrained resentment. It should be genuine and crafted with genuine thought and consideration.

Pity is a human emotion that has its place, but what needs changing has no need to tug at heartstrings. Melodrama, too, should consign itself to plays and films, not wholesale manipulation. We are saved by Grace. There is nothing we can do to win treasure in Heaven. It is instead a free gift, freely given by someone who sees us as his children.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Quote of the Week

"All those writers who write about their own childhood! Gentle God, if I wrote about mine you wouldn't sit in the same room with me."-Dorothy Parker

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Saturday Video

The new Nick Drake "companion to the music" (don't call it a biography) is excellent. It is recommended highly even to casual fans of Drake's work. The beautifully compiled book is titled simply Nick Drake: Remembered for a While. Consider it for Christmas presents.

A city freeze get on your knees
Pray for warmth and green paper
A city drought, you’re down and out
See your trousers don’t taper

Saddle up kick your feet
Ride the range of a London street
Travel to a local plane
Turn around and come back again

And at the chime of a city clock
Put up your road block
Hang on to your crown

For a stone in a tin can
Is wealth to the city man
Who leaves his armour down

Stay indoors beneath the floors
Talk with neighbours only
The games you play make people say
You’re either weird or lonely

A city star won’t shine too far
On account of the way you are
And the beads around your face
Make you sure to fit back in place

And at the beat of a city drum
See how your friends come in twos,
Or threes or more
For the sound of a busy place
Is fine for a pretty face
Who knows what a face is for

The city clown will soon fall down
Without a face to hide in
And he will lose if he won’t choose
The one he may confide in

Sonny boy with smokes for sale
Went to ground with a face so pale
And never heard about the change
Showed his hand and fell out of range

In the light of a city square
Find out that face that’s fair
Keep it by your side
When the light of the city falls
You fly to the city walls
Take off with your bride

But at the chime of a city clock
Put up your road block
Hang on to your crown

For a stone in a tin can
Is wealth to the city man
Who leaves his armour

Thursday, December 11, 2014

More Shameless Self-Promotion

Here I am again, a caller on a sports radio show. Listen for me beginning at the 5:20 mark.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Sail Away

I could live inside a tepee
I could die
in Penthouse thirty-five

You could lose me on the freeway
But I would still
make it back alive.

As long as we can sail away
As long as we can sail away
There'll be wind in the canyon
Moon on the rise
As long as we can sail away.

See the losers in the best bars
Meet the winners in the dives
Where the people are the real stars
All the rest of their lives.

As long as we can sail away
As long as we can sail away
There'll be wind in the canyon
Moon on the rise
As long as we can sail away.

There's a road
stretched out between us
Like a ribbon on the high plain
Down from Phoenix through Salinas
'Round the bend and back again.

As long as we can sail away
As long as we can sail away
There'll be wind in the canyon
Moon on the rise

As long as we can sail away
As long as we can sail away.