"I Saw Nick Drake" / Robyn Hitchcock
ROBYN HITCHCOCK WEEK
I myself have never gotten on the Nick Drake bandwagon, but if Robyn Hitchcock tells me to, I will.
In my first frenzy of discovering Robyn Hitchcock, I downloaded this acoustic track from his 2000 release A Star for Bram; I must admit I can't tell you what the rest of the album is like. (I'm trying so hard not to get all completist and crazy about Robyn Hitchcock). But here's Robyn in acoustic mode, impersonating a folkie singer-songwriter--just like, oh I don't know, Nick Drake? Considering that Robyn's just the right age to have "discovered" Nick Drake as a teenager, and to have been shattered by his early death (there's a Cambridge connection as well), this homage makes perfect sense. What's especially lovely is that it doesn't try to "define" Drake, it's just (another) slightly off-kilter Robyn Hitchcock meditation on life and art.
Part the genius of this song is that wistful acoustic riff that dances through it; that's the bit that sticks in my mind the most. I won't try to convince you that Robyn Hitchcock is an underrated guitarist -- don't expect blistering solos or turned-up-to-eleven power chords from him -- but certain little things he does guitar-wise seem just brilliant to me.
I read somewhere that Robyn wrote this song while riding on a barge down the Thames, which makes sense of the opening line: "I saw Nick Drake / At the corner of time and motion." (I think he's referring to Einstein's explanation of relativity, though let's face it, Robyn probably doodled his way through high school science and doesn't understand relativity any more than I do.) In this dreamlike alternate universe, Nick and Robyn catch each other's eye, and Robyn blurts out just the sort of thing any of us would say on meeting our heroes for the first time: "I said 'You're tall' / He said 'No taller than tomorrow's ocean.'" See the river flowing into the ocean? As an old English major, if I ran into this line in Baudelaire or John Ashbery I could interpret the hell out of it. That's the mark of a real poet, that Hitchcock knows not to mess with a line like that.
In our next scene, Robyn sees Nick Drake again,"As we were carrying the ice together." There's a party going on, maybe, but there's death in that "ice" too. "I saw his face / Beneath the glass," Robyn adds -- already Nick is slipping into another dimension (that glass could be ice, or the water's surface). Next there's a lovely riddling nostalgic line: "He lived in sound / And all the strawberries of English weather." We're sitting in an English garden, waiting for the sun, and evanescent shadows are flitting all around us, and jeez, I'm beginning to miss Nick Drake too, to miss him like crazy.
"The habits of a lifetime / Will lay you low / Into your grave," Robyn muses in the last verse -- a reference, I guess, to poor depressive Nick Drake's death, a drug overdose/suicide. At this point, I don't know if the song's about Nick Drake or about Robyn himself. I just know that it's oddly uplifting, as if Nick Drake's benificent spirit could come floating through our lives again at any time.
So now which do I do -- go order the complete works of Nick Drake, or download the rest of A Star For Bram? It's a toss-up...
I Saw Nick Drake sample