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Flashback: two songs by Nick Drake to crave for forgetfulness

He looks up to the skies on this radiant October night, and is overcome by a lively and intoxicating hope. Where does this illusion come from? Why do the skies say so much? 

Gaston Baquero


Christmas photograph. Gabrielle Drake sitting on the floor in front of her brother, he holding a guitar, sitting on a piece of furniture with flowers, she looking at him, looking at his fingers. An aged tone taking over the photo. The years have a curious and noticeable color. It is always the same. It doesn't matter if it's 1974 or 1996. It doesn't even matter if the color is not really the same. 

I saw that photograph on November 25. On that day, 48 years earlier, Nick Drake had died. I was, as usual, in the bar I go to when I want to tear things out of my head, or when I want to tear my head off. At the same table. A table for one, which used to be a table for three, but mutated into a small table with a single stool in front of it. I don't want to think that this mutation is due to the solitudes. But it is.

Northern Sky/ The machine 

I thought of Nick Drake again last night after listening to Northern Sky. I listened to it a lot. Headphones on. Beer. Crowded place. 

From the disc Bryter Layter (1971), Northern Sky is my most recurrent song, the one I go to in search of the peace I don't have, the one that lightens the manic course of the hours. The song I can listen to a thousand times. The one I have listened to a thousand times. 

The thing is that he was 23 years old and a child wondering about the love that persists [Would you love me 'til I'm dead?]. I was a child dreaming of the beautiful northern sky. A teenager in front of love, talking about magic, talking about sweet breezes. And I find the passion with which he speaks sweet and shattering, as if he were speaking to me, as if he were telling me What do you know about life? 

What would I know about life, Nick. If I, at 26, had your 23 and dreamed of the night sky and swallowed a secret as if it were poison, but it didn't kill me, it left me weaker. And I dreamed of love after death. And, for dreaming, I dreamed things like seeing time stopped in a night of which I keep the unconfessable touch. 

But I never wrote that song. I could only pray. I couldn't but be the age I am, except for a few years I wanted to take off to look sweet and luminous. 

[Brighten my northern sky]. 

But I was not luminous, and gradually dawn broke. 


-Will you love me always, even if I die, Philip? will you love me always, even if I die? 

AuraCarlos Fuentes.

But the boy knew... He knew and that's why he was sent to a psychiatrist, and that's why he had to take medication to sleep, and that's why he died almost as a child. That's why, because at 26 he knew everything without knowing it. Because life could not allow a child to sing to heaven. Life is earthly and not nocturnal. Except in songs, and in certain kinds of memories. 

Point 1:

A machine aimed at a kind of sentimental electroshock. It does not exist. But I imagine this great machine. I imagine it made of silver, opulent, with little precious stones in front of all the wiring. It would be a terrible invention, because oblivion is terrible - and also opulent - in any of its forms; because one owes oneself to memory, because one only lives when one remembers, because one only loves to create images in the archive of memory, one loves so that those images persist [...Would you love me...?]. But I wanted to hear Northern Sky as if it were a common song (beautiful, but common). Without interference, without the sky of my memory, which is a sky within a sky. Without feeling each word as a blow too much my own. Admiring only the voice, imagining and not remembering. Creating new images, reliving the old ones. The song would be another, it would contain another beauty, it would be condemned -paradoxically- to oblivion. Alas, the consequence of forgetfulness, which is neither musical nor aesthetic, is something else that I do not know what it is called, but it hurts like an imposing name, like discovering every day the same old photo and finding a color in it, a stain that means Time goes by and loneliness has its belly more and more torn. 

Northern Sky was the same antiquity, it was useless to turn on the machine from the inside. It was the song prayed in the midst of the most lacerating love. The needle. The inordinate tenderness. The secret. The words escaping from the machine, refusing to impost amnesia. Refusing me. Me who listened to them one afternoon, on the edge of what can't be. Me who didn't know how to stop embracing. 

I remembered that of Proust in The FugitiveThe same different woman...". Northern Sky it was the same different song, the same different boy, the same sound. It contained a renewing pain, a renewed desire. A hope so adolescent and tiny it looked like a toy cup. 

[Would you love me

Would you love me...

Would you love me 'till I'm dead?]. 

I don't know what heaven must have said to a 23-year-old boy. I don't know who it was singing to or what oath was sworn to him. But it must have been huge. 

The only thing I find more dangerous than a disappointment is an illusion. I also believe that, of all human creations, the most clumsy is the promise: how can you promise that the future will be one way, as if the future of time depended on you, as if you were the master of events. A promise is all love and all selfishness at once. And those illusions created are what make people lose their minds and commit follies and songs. Y Northern Sky is such a song. The magic madness. I always wonder what was the promise that led him to sleeplessness, in what way he was embraced, in what mortuary breast he fell asleep. 

[Oh, if you would and you could…] 

God knows what caliber their joy would be. 

[But now you're here,

brighten my northern sky]. 

What size of meetings.

And how big the disillusionment afterwards.

Time Has Told Me / The street / Electroshock 

Time Has Told Me seems like a song written in front of the forgetting machine an hour before wanting to forget. No person who prefers memory stops to think too much about what time says. That word is a horror. It is hard to swallow. Bitter as hell. 




The greatest anti-digestive calamity. 

Point 2:

I also imagine that I am suddenly walking down a wide, busy street. I remember absolutely nothing. They put me through the machine. The headphones are playing something, anything. People are walking at an accelerated speed. But not me. I'm going at my pace, which is the same pace that the beat of the song. I walk slowly. It's a beautiful day, the sun burns little and the coldness is pleasant. 

And suddenly it starts to reproduce Time Has Told Me. I don't remember, of course, where it came from. I only know that I like it. 

Someone is coming from in front of me, walking much faster than me. Someone I loved. The machine erased the rest of the dedicated songs. It erased the hidden sex repeatedly. And the words spoken in the most majestic sobriety. And the words spoken in the most fatal drunkenness.

I remember only the basics: that person exists. That person has a name that I know. A medical history, an ID number, a life, a job, a criminal record. It's just another person, whom I know from almost nothing, by sight. Then I greet with a gesture, a nice grimace. A hello, a how are you / Fine and you / Fine, thank you. 

I continue on my way while wondering where I got that song from and why I don't listen to it more often. I get to the place I was going to, which could very well be the apartment of someone I do remember. Or a coffee shop with those precious cups that unfortunately are not toy cups. I'm left wondering where I met that guy. But that's not important. 

-Good morning. 

-Good morning. 

In the end, oblivion is not the total absence of memory. It is reduced to cordiality and the finally unremembered song. And it is worse. It is worse to depersonify a mouth. To reduce it to the Good Day.

As if that mouth and your mouth had never been under the same sheet (an afternoon of which you don't remember anything either). 

Flashback / Memory 

The world was very unfair to Nick. So was love. He took 30 antidepressants before he went to bed. I'd like to think that at least he didn't die crying. That the flowers by his bedside stayed alive until the next day, that they lit his way to the northern sky. I want to think that she is there. 

[By superstition, by stubbornness, by mania].

His glory was posthumous. His records sold very little. He failed in love in all the ways love can fail. A happy photograph says nothing. Sadness hangs around like death. Secrets speak little in photos. Guitars are not heard. But time has a gravely voice and brings everything to light, despite the silences. It is a disgrace.

Point 3:

Fortunately, this machine does not exist. I invented it in my head one night when I wanted to forget my name. In the hypothetical situation of the encounters in the streets, there would arrive a flash back atrocious. Something would break, even the toy cups at the other end of town. I would stand in front of the object of oblivion and I would cry and say I remember everything and so do you, please walk me home.

I know exactly what would happen. All remedies have their disease.

And everything unmentionable and everything hidden would come back to my head. [No one will notice]. And I would look for an alley and a couple of cigars and I would remember the promise and the first illusion, and the time, all the time dreamed, the premeditation of the acts.

Nothing is more persistent than a sweet memory. Nothing. Forgetfulness is weak and tiny when there are letters and songs. And you catch yourself reading a beautiful message in the wee hours of the morning, and you catch yourself living inside a word. The memory is more than any death. And you can't subject a song to death. It is impossible. The notes would break the frontal lobe and the whole city would be enveloped in the same sound. The cities would be deaf. Something would hurt, in the chest. The arrhythmic discomfort of the recovered. 


Tell me, child, what secret did you take to the grave, what promise did you keep as a letter, what did you see in the sky? I don't know, I only see figures, clouds with sweet shapes. Sweets. I only see a desolate peace. I only see a breeze, and it's not sweet, because it doesn't take me back to the blue rooms or to the unconfessable touch. Tell me what you saw that night before you slept, and what led you to oblivion, and what led you to death and to the psychiatrist and to nothingness. I know memories that are death itself. I fell asleep once on a mortuary chest and listened to the sweetness of a word, spoken with fear and with caution, and with joy too. I promised to be silent. And I was silent every time. And they hid me like a war wound, like one hides a disease diagnosed with regret, like something to live with in silence, the deadly and the terrible. The extravagant tastes that should not be admitted so that no one at home gets scared and leaves. What were you hiding from while you were talking about a pink moon [1996] [1974].

Did they also hide you like monsters? Did they also hide you like a terrible experiment is hidden in the basement? Ah... Like an October torn from the year. You can't see the sky from the cellars. But from here you can sing even if your voice is hermetic. We sing because singing is the only thing that makes monsters less monsters and memories come back sweetly. [When the night is cold]. 

Tell me what picture you looked at when the voice was not enough for invocations. Tell me why I sing when I am very sad, why I return to the same photo and the voice breaks and those many moons are frightened and those promises do not light up any darkness. Tell me why I chose to remember and repeat everything, why I prefer to turn my face in a very long street, although I know well under what songs certain faces look at me, although the asphalt barks my name and although the sky recognizes that my voice is only sweet when it pronounces the unpronounceable. 

[But now you're here]. 

Tell me if it is not worse this singing inside and only inside. Tell me how you can sing without raising a suspicion. What lyrics can be written to my sky without anyone noticing, the sky of mine that sometimes looks at me as if it wanted to tell me to calm down,...that someday our ocean will find its shore... 

We spend our lives living buried episodes. Flashbacks that arrive while we are preparing the meal; or while the phone music, in its random drama, plays a very specific song. 

Child, black eyed dogI too once saw the sky light up, I too once saw the sky light up, I too once believed in a promise when I had illusion in the palm of my hand. When a black-eyed dog finally knocked on my door.

Avatar photo Wendy Martinez Voyeur of chess games. I'm afraid of clowns. More posts

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  1. Marty says:

    What a lovely piece of writing. A tribute. Thank you.

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