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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Do You Love Nick Drake? Then Thank His Parents

Posted By on Tue, Jun 21, 2011 at 8:39 AM

Page 2 of 2

"I know both parents were grateful for the attention Nick was getting -- grateful and enthusiastic," Martin "Cally" Calliman, manager of the music side of Drake's estate, writes me in an e-mail. "I have heard many touching stories about fans being put up for the night at Far Leys. You will understand that by, say ... 1979, Nick was almost completely unknown by the new young fans that were devouring music at that time."

I once read an interview with Mary Guibert, mother of deceased singer-songwriter Jeff Buckley, in which she discussed how fan letters extolling her son's music and personal qualities carried her through the gloomiest of days. Molly and Rodney possibly found similar peace in coalescing with fans. It's said that part of the healing process involves learning to live amongst the living again.

Over time, the helplessness the Drakes experienced in dealing with their son's illness was replaced with rock-hard persistence. Having their son's music fade into total obscurity would have been like losing him all over again. Grief nudged them in unexpected directions. I understand that's normal when parents have experienced the most devastating and unconscionable of losses. You find yourself patiently taking a phone call in the wee hours from some fast-talking, fervent soul from Singapore who just heard "River Man" for the first time and wants to expound on how it felt like he was holding his breath for 25 years -- his entire life, in fact -- and how when he listened to that song he could finally exhale. (I had initially put an exclamation point at the end of the preceding sentence, but my ever-pretentious self thinks using an exclamation point in an article dedicated to Drake feels odd.)

I'm especially taken by how grassroots the Drakes' crusade was, that their son's legacy can trace its roots to the simple act of their answering a knock at the front door. Or how frequently the relationship with fans was flipped, the Drakes falling under the spell of their most ardent visitors as freely and completely as these visitors did for their son's fragile voice and finger-picked melodies. Or how they turned Far Leys into a velvet-cordoned exhibition, Drake's possessions essentially becoming museum pieces, yet it never veered toward exploitation. Or how they acted so resolutely despite being so isolated in their endeavors. (Aside from manager/producer Joe Boyd, there were few champions for Drake's music within the industry.)

"I'm sure you can empathize with any couple who lose a child," Calliman tells me. "People tend to forget that this is what they had to bear: to bear the unbearable. If there were any chance that Nick's 'life' could continue through his music, any parent would want that to happen, surely."

The Nick Drake story has so many intertwined and compelling themes -- loss, idolatry, legacy, redemption -- but the one that stands out for me is perseverance. Rodney and Molly believed their son and his music deserved a better fate, destiny, legacy -- call it whatever you like -- and set about achieving that goal. They set a course and never veered from it. As we amble down life's many paths, creating our own tiny legacies, I suppose we can all hope to possess the same determination.

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Ryan Foley

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