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A Skin Too Few

Music legend Nick Drake is profiled in Jeroen Berkvens’ documentary A Skin Too Few. James Mann reviews this loving look at a voice that spoke to millions, but died thinking it went unheard.

A Skin Too Few: The Days of Nick Drake

Directed by Jeroen Berkvens

There are cult artists that the world at large has never heard of for a reason – people such as Roky Erikson of the 13th Floor Elevators, for instance. His form of brilliance would never captivate the world at large, for the world has no place for fuzzed-out garage rock LSD music. Then there are performers who are cult artists despite the fact that their music sounds perfectly suited for mass consumption. Nick Drake was such an artist.

He only lived 26 years. His released output is three scant albums, barely enough for a double CD. But in that brief time, with only a handful of songs, Nick Drake created a tapestry of art that has not only endured since its release, but grown. The use of •Pink Moon• in a car commercial is only perhaps the most visible sign. Countless later artists draw from the melancholy well that is his music. You don•t simply listen to his songs – they are far too personal for that. At some point, you realize that by some magic of unknown powers, Drake wrote a song for you. One of his creations will exactly match a time, a feeling, or an emotion that you thought until that moment existed only in your world. The fact that a withdrawn, isolated man in rural England could have so perfectly articulated your basic emotions can be both warming and frightening.

No film exists of Drake performing – he did too few live shows for such an opportunity to exist. He was never a media darling during his lifetime, so whatever still images were made have been memorized years ago. So the notion of making a motion picture about his life must have been a daunting one, since the subject in question did almost nothing to help you along. But Jeroen Berkvens must be commended for what he did create – a beautiful, moving experience that paints in a few of the gaps that we all hold in our knowledge of this wonderful musician. With interviews with Drake•s family, musos such as Paul Weller, and his producer, Joe Boyd, a rather full portrait is presented. The picture is not a happy one. Although gifted almost beyond belief, Nick Drake died thinking he had been a failure, wondering if his music had touched even one person. If only he knew.

The greatest aspect of the film is the slow, tranquil shots that focus on Drake•s hometown, Tanworth in Arden. It is here that the music that lingers so lightly on first hearing, but that grows and resonates from that point forward, began. A very small town surrounded by rolling hills and sleepy meadows, it provides for the eyes that which his music does for the ears. Drake couldn•t have created songs such as •River Man• or •Pink Moon• in the bustle of a city; he would have been drowned out. But surrounded by the people who had known him his entire life, and in a setting of peaceful beauty, he found a surrounding that amplified his soul. •Hazey Jane• and •A Way to Blue• come to life when framed by his environment.

Nick Drake was a genius. A masterful guitarist, a singer with such a uniquely haunting voice that sounds for all the world as if it is being whispered from a point just behind your ears, Drake birthed art that had no stepchildren, although many tried. He is simply Nick Drake. The notion that he died (by his own hand or not, we will never know) wondering if he had reached anyone is so very sad. Yes Nick, you did. Thank you.

http://www.nickdrakefilm.com

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