I’ve always been aware of the nostalgic pull; it drives my writing in so many ways. The reason I wanted to get into writing about music in the way that I did was to recap. I used to keep diaries of the albums I bought, the albums I listened to each day. For years I kept score – in a game where I was the referee, the coach and the only participant.
When I started writing poems – way before I ever wrote about music – I was doing much the same. Diaries of the day. And my first music reviews were in there too. Sometimes.
And so that’s how it’s always been. But sometimes you have a week or two where you really notice it. That was the case last week.
I got pretty choked up listening to Brian Wilson’s latest. Solo piano renditions of all those memorable and enduring Beach Boys songs. It’s the record Brian’s been wanting to make forever. Gershwin and Mozart his heroes. It’s the record his silly-sod dad, Murry, probably would have loved the most.
And I was on RNZ talking about Marvin Gaye. I do these music features once a month or so – they’re always fun, and a lot of work too of course. But this one came about because I’ve been listening to Marvin’s great catalogue a lot this year. Not just the great albums but the many average ones that he released in the early 1960s. They’re not terrible. But there’s a lot of filler. And there’s no indication that he’d become the superstar that he did. I’ve been thinking about Gaye, reading about Gaye, and most importantly listening. So much wonderful music. So much trauma and baggage attached to it. But also, I turned 45 this year. Marvin never got to do that. He was killed on the eve of his 45th birthday. I’m now older than he got to be in his lifetime. I know this sort of thing happens all the time – but sometimes it really impacts.
A few years ago it blew my mind to think about how John Coltrane was 40 when he made his masterpiece. Then dead. I suddenly struggled to get my head around that. And I felt lazy too.
This week that all came back into play, not just with the Marvin Gaye radio segment, but with the discovery of another beautiful new solo piano album. Quite the week for it. As well as Brian Wilson’s At My Piano, I discovered Pink Moon, A Journey on Piano by Demian Dorelli. This record is a song-by-song cover of Pink Moon by Nick Drake. But the songs have been stripped of their words, and moved from guitar to piano. It’s truly beautiful. And I recommend you give it a listen. I heard elements of Keith Jarrett’s The Koln Concert and the ambient albums Brian Eno made with Harold Budd. So, instantly top shelf material.
I reckon you can just get into it even if you don’t know the source material.
But you should check out Pink Moon if you don’t know it. And of course, albums like this urge you to revisit the originals – so I spent a few hours listening to Pink Moon on repeat yesterday. It just slays me. The original album just 28 minutes, so perfect, so fragile, so finite.
When I first heard this album I was only a year younger than Drake was when he made it. He only released three records – by the time of Pink Moon, his final effort, his record company didn’t even want new music from him. His three albums sold a few thousand copies combined. Drake quit music, disillusioned, depressed. He overdosed. He didn’t even make it to rock’n’roll’s infamous 27 Club. Just 26. His small world of music sat there, cult-ish, and was rediscovered, reappraised, in waves. Eventually the title track was on a car commercial.
A good friend introduced me to Pink Moon – and though I love the other albums and some of the tracks that came out on posthumous compilations, it is Pink Moon that I hold dear. That friend was introduced to it by a good friend too. It’s that sort of music. You share it. You whisper about it, then you talk faster, a little louder, you start to gesticulate. Well, that’s how it was back then. Now we just share links. I’m sure I’ve introduced a few people to Pink Moon along the way. I’ve certainly had some of my favourite music-chats with people who already knew that particular secret.
And whenever I hear Pink Moon I am transported to a time when I was doing my version of bottoming out. I can’t tell you that I was saved by Pink Moon. That’s a cliché. And it’s not accurate. But I can tell you that I remember it fondly and link it to that time – and the sad story of Drake and the moving music he made is indelibly linked to my own privileged struggle of that time. I was a mess, cosmically, spiritually, philosophically. I was lazy and confused and bored and running on a weird manic belligerence. I took a wee while to get my life in order. I’m forever grateful that I did.