Saturday, June 21, 2008


The Tragedy of Nick Drake

I didn't get Nick Drake's first two albums, Five Leaves Left (1969) and Bryter Layter (1970), neither of which sold more than 5,000 copies originally, but I did listen to a friend's copy of an early re-release of them probably in 1971, and I bought his last album Pink Moon right after it came out in 1972. I have been a fan pretty much from the beginning. That's pretty rare, because most of his fans today only learned about him after that Volkswagon commercial. It's possible that he has never been more popular than now. He died at age 26 in 1974 of an overdose of anti psychotic medicine. Most people believe it was a suicide. I learned of his death in 1976 and it hurt. But I was not aware of how really unhappy a life he had until recently, until I read his wikipedia entry. Man, oh man, was that a wasted life. I bring this up because it was his birthday two days ago.

One of the things that makes me an eclectic conservative, as opposed to a conventional Republican, is that I believe the government has no right to protect us from ourselves. The War on Drugs, for example, is a waste and a pathetic failure and we would be well served to combat people's problems with drugs not with courts and prison sentences but with medical treatment and NA. Indeed, the government should sell us cheap, high quality "hard" drugs which we could only use in certain areas of each county. Marijuana should just be legal, as legal as alcohol.

As firmly as I believe that, Drake's history makes me doubt the wisdom of such a policy. It is clear that he absolutely ruined his life with just marijuana and LSD. And I do mean ruined. Since I liked his songs a lot before I knew about his drug use, I can't say that his figurative self immolation makes the songs better, but to a person trained in irony detection, everything he sang has an added layer of emotion now that I know what was really going on with him. It's not, however, an added layer of happiness.

Happy belated birthday, Nick. I've liked your work for over 35 years, but I have to say that you blew it.


I wouldn't go so far to say it is clear that he ruined his life with pot and LSD.

I know two different guys from school that basically lost it and in both cases pot and LSD were involved. The thing is, the drugs were more of a symptom of a deeper problem. LSD especially gives some relief in the early stages of schizophrenia. So much so that doctors at one point were hopeful that it could be used to treat it.

However, over time the schizophrenia returns and the self-medicator usually ups his self-prescribed dose resulting in a downward spiral of depression and break from reality.

So in short, what I'm saying is that these guys that I knew went down pretty fast, from normal, to completely out of it. The drugs were used in a futile attempt to stop the progression of their disease. They were not ultimate cause of it. At least that is my view.

I also know people who killed themselves with booze because they were so depressed. Same thing as far as I'm concerned.
I agree with everything you say; who knows what would have happened to Drake without pot. Perhaps his life would have been exactly the same. I know too that the same thing happens with alcohol, like with Jaco Pastorius, for example.
Thanks for the comment.
For the sake of argument, let's postulate that marijuana and LSD were solely responsible for his decline and death -- that in their absence his life would have been the very model of happiness.

Even if that were the case, and even if that path were a common one (which I submit is quite unlikely) I would still argue that the negative externalities of legal drug use are lower than the negative externalities of the current regime.

And, FWIW, I've never used either drug, nor do I have any desire to.
I agree that the current situation is worse than even my parital (spatial) legalization, and I should have written that the prospect of people ruining their lives with drugs makes me sad rather than it makes me doubt the intellectual worth of my libertarian streak in this area. Thanks, Doug, right again.
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