You know — the Cartwright place; not the steakhouse. This could also be called Late Discovery Wednesday.
Last night, one of the local public radio stations broadcast a discussion from a month or so ago about a singer/songwriter named Nick Drake. I had heard something of his story before: a wildly talented and deeply depressed singer/songwriter in the late ’60s and early ’70s; he made just three albums in what I would suppose you’d call the British-type folk-rock style — think Fairport Convention and Richard and Linda Thompson. He died in 1974, in his mid-20s, a possible suicide. His music never went away, though. The albums didn’t find a big audience, but they survived because the fans were devoted and sometimes influential. From listening to the program last night, it sounds like Drake’s big posthumous break was having a marketing guy at Volkswagen happen across one of Drake’s late songs, “Pink Moon,” and decide to use it as the soundtrack for a commercial (you can watch it on YouTube). That was in 2000, and the sudden mass exposure of the song moved 5,000 copies of the “Pink Moon” album in less than three weeks — more than it had sold in the two years between its release and Drake’s death.
Out of curiosity, I went looking for the Volkswagen ad. I remember it, though I wouldn’t have guessed it was on the air seven years ago already. Four young people in a Cabriolet or whatever those little Rabbit-like convertibles are called. They drive along beautiful moonlight roads and arrive at a roadhouse. They pull into the parking lot and are greeted by the yahoo-like carryings-on of their peers. Disgusted, too in touch with the wonders of the night (thanks to the car), they soulfully head back out to the open road. There’s no dialogue; just a minute of the Drake song, which is pleasant enough but not world-shattering. As commercial’s go, it’s a pretty good one (another VW favorte: the couple driving through the New Orleans French Quarter in the rain, where absolutely everything they see on the street — people walking, people unloading a truck, a guy sweeping the sidewalk, another guy dribbling a basketball — happens in time to the car’s windshield wipers. That one would have worked better without dialogue, too; it’s also on YouTube).
There are some Nick Drake videos on YouTube, too (sort of; there’s apparently no extant film footage of him playing, so people have just pieced together moody still images). “Pink Moon,” for one. And one called “River Man,” which is a lovely minor-key ballad that prompted me to see if iTunes has any Drake stuff. They do. I wound up buying a compilation album, “Way to Blue.” If you’re in the market yourself, go to AmazonMP3 — the album is three bucks cheaper than it is on iTunes (also, Amazon’s songs can be played anywhere and come without the digital-rights management limits that Apple imposes on most cuts at the behest of the record companies.
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