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Nick Drake: The Biography Paperback – September 24, 1998

26 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

English singer/songwriter Nick Drake was a nearly unknown cult figure when he died from an overdose of antidepressants in 1974, but the number of his admirers has grown steadily ever since. Musicians in particular are drawn to his delicate, melancholy folk tunes and to the legend of his depressive isolation and suicide at age 26. Humphries, Drake's first biographer, faced difficult working conditions without the cooperation of Drake's producer, Joe Boyd, or of Drake's family, and without even permission to quote Drake's lyrics. Still, he has done his legwork, although exact causes of Drake's decline remain unclear. Interviews with schoolboy chums reveal that, far from being withdrawn, Drake engaged in normal boyish hijinks. And although he was frustrated by his lack of success, it appears that Drake was doomed to obscurity by his own refusal to allow Island records to promote him, rather than by the indifference of the music world. Futhermore, although Drake certainly was drawn into the drug culture surrounding the London music scene of the late '60s, his involvement was apparently not enough to explain his downfall. Though a skillful and engaging writer, Humphries tends to go overboard with setting the scene: he manages to discuss the sinking of the Titanic, the British role in Burma and the Brontes before getting to Drake's birth. Although unable to solve the mystery of his death, Humphries does manage to make the singer seem more human, albeit at the expense of Drake's romantic myth. Photos.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

PATRICK HUMPHRIES 14 Red Post Hill, London SE24 9JQ 0207 737 7222

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC (September 24, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0747535035
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747535034
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.8 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,740,223 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

54 of 58 people found the following review helpful By Larry L. Looney on April 3, 2003
Format: Paperback
I was very disappointed in this book - and while some of that disappointment is with the style of writing Mr. Humphries employs here, there's more to it than that. Writing a biography is a tricky proposition at best. In the case of an artist like Nick Drake - reclusive and withdrawn, with only one interview given during his brief lifetime - it's a task even more daunting than one would usually expect. Humphries has written bios of other musicians - Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Richard Thompson, Tom Waits, &c - and has evidently built a career and reputation in this area. I'm sure that he felt drawn to the music of Nick Drake in some ways, rather than simply choosing an artist about whom to write in the hope of selling tons of books - there are innumerable choices that would have garnered him greater sales - but without the cooperation of two critical people in Nick's life (his sister Gabrielle and his manager/producer Joe Boyd), given the nature of his subject, the project was more or less doomed from the start.
Humphries mentions in his forward that Joe and Gabrielle `had decided not to cooperate' - and since Joe's Warlock Music is the publisher of all of Nick's songs, this also meant that Humphries would be unable to quote from Nick's lyrics. He was thus reduced to quoting Gabrielle and Joe from previously available sources. Molly and Rodney Drake, Nick's parents, were deceased, so no direct conversations between them and the author were possible either. The only other sources left for him upon which to draw were the remembrances of various friends of Nick and written articles about the man and his music. What emerges from all of this is inevitably a choppy picture of the man - not unsympathetic, but jarring and incomplete.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By "icb" on October 8, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Patrick Humphries' greatest achievement in writing a biography of Nick Drake, one of the great singer songwriters of his (or any) generation, is that he was able to find enough material to fill a full-length book. Which is both a blessing and a curse: the last three years of his life must have been a nightmare for Nick Drake, a young man who along with his considerable talent also, it appears, crafted an image of himself as a loner artiste, an image which became the reality that eventually consumed him. Therefore, Humphries was faced with the daunting task of making interesting the interviews with friends and relatives, who, almost without exception, claimed that Drake was quiet, incommunicative, present but not really all there; in short, there wasn't much story to tell: three brilliant albums, a staggering mental breakdown and depression, and a death that may have been accidental, may have been suicide, but in any case was as tragic as it was inevitable. Humphries great achievement is to take the simple facts of Drake's life and put them in a context that makes them seem belong-able to a real human being, rather than part of the myth that Nick Drake has become. Most fascinating is his portrayal of the music scene that Drake became associated with via his manager, Joe Boyd, the legendary producer of many of the great British folk-rock groups of the late 60s; in fact, while Drake is the centerpiece of Humphries' book, Boyd's colorful presence in Nick Drake's life and his role in 60s rock often outshines the story of Nick Drake himself, simply because so much more is known of Boyd. Made most clear by this biography is that to know more about Nick Drake than we knew before would be virtually impossible, because, more so than even a man like Bob Dylan, Drake WAS his music.Read more ›
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By R Jess on January 27, 2004
Format: Paperback
Any biographical information about the life of Nick Drake has to be welcomed and Patrick Humphries has done his best in tracking down Nick's old aquantinces. But you'd have to be close to illiterate not to figure out there's an awful lot of padding and repetition in this book.

The life and recording career of Nick Drake was so short that ironiclly the lack of visual images featured here only adds to the aura. It's as if we only had a miniscule visual record of Nick Drake. On the contrary, photos of him seem to be in relevant abundance and seeing them would have done more to humanize his past than speculation and half-forgotten anecdotes.

A lot of time was given over to descriptions of Nick's appearance and there was some interesting details supplied by the photographers who shot the album photos. But I felt myself wanting to see the actual photos of Nick and interpret them for myself rather than read about what somebody else thought about them. Interpreting already available photos is hardly great biographical insight.

As such I think this would have been a much more complete reflection on Nick's life if it had been released as a photo book. That way the biographical text could have been shortened to 100 pages or so of the most relevant and important information and the rest of the book could include a photographic record of Nick Drake with the complete photo sessions of every album.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Cory Heitman on June 13, 2003
Format: Paperback
This is what we will have to make do with. I recommend this for fans of this brilliant musician as it is simply the only large book available and has the most information in one volume. Unfortunately. Humphries breaks up his narrative with information on the Titanic, history of Cambridge University, and casual acquaintances of Drake, often in no sensible sequence. For those new to English Folk rock, more background information on Richard Thompson, Fairport Convention and others associated would have been helpful. Also, some perspective on Drake's music in relation to pop culture late 60's early 70's would have been appreciated.
In the author's defence, Nick Drake is a difficult man to research, due to his own reclusiveness and short life. Despite the brilliance of his music it's not hard to understand why he never became a "pop idol" after reading this. There are enough interviews and anecdotes inside to piece together, with difficulty, a portrait of Nick Drake as he lived.
Hopefully, with Drake's recent surge in popularity, the friends & family of Nick Drake still surviving will help provide a dedicated writer the information on a truly enlightening and memorable work.
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