With every passing year, it becomes a little less accurate to say that Nick Drake has a cult following. Cults, by their very nature, tend to exist on the margins, the subject of their admiration unknown or even unloved by the vast majority of people. Mention Nick Drake to a certain generation of music fan and chances are you won’t have to explain yourself. Latterly, Drake’s name has become a byword for a certain kind of acoustic music. Gentility, melancholia and a seemingly casual mastery of the fretboard.
Nick Drake’s Black Eyed Dog is as disturbing a piece of music as Mahler’s Ninth Symphony or Hellhound On My Trail by the tormented blues guitarist Robert Johnson. From the depths of Sound Technique’s eerie echo room, Nick’s guitar rang like a funeral bell. From the depths of his own tortured soul, his fractured voice cried out “I wanna go home”.
Probably suggested by Winston Churchill’s famous description of depression as a black dog, this stark piece from the Time of No Reply album, played on just three strings, is a harrowing listen. Nick was psychologically fragile, and his desperation is tangible. His tormented voice is beyond pleading. As the song proceeds his formally faultless guitar playing is marred by scuffs and scrapes.
“He had no interest in living at all,” remembers a friend. “The fruits of life meant nothing…I don’t remember him ever laughing. Just before he died he looked like Howard Hughes. There was this beautiful boy with the milky white, almost see through skin, who always took great care of his hands and his fingernails, and now he was dirty and unkempt and his nails were too long to play the guitar”.
Source: Trevor Dann, Darker Than the Deepest Sea: The Search for Nick Drake