Gorm Henrik Rasmussen’s book Pink Moon, centred on Nick Drake, belongs firmly in the creative non-fiction camp, and it’s a fascinating mix of styles. It’s part-memoir in that it involves Rasmussen’s own search to learn about Drake, and it is obviously part-biography due to its detailed analysis of Drake and his short life. But Pink Moon is also poetic – sometimes dream-like – in its style, perhaps thanks to the fact that its author is a poet, and at times it also has the pacing of a thriller. It spurs the reader on to continue, to find out more, even though the ending is known from the start.
The blending of genres seems to suit Drake’s own artistry, in that he was inspired by a variety of styles, and attempted, perhaps unconsciously, to bring them together in his songs. Besides the variety of genres, Rasmussen also joins together a number of different strands in both his life and Drake’s, moving back and forth across time. The book starts in Rasmussen’s native Denmark, on the cold, rainy night in 1978 when he first discovered Drake’s music. His fondness for Drake’s songs turns into something of a passion, and an obsession. And soon we are following Rasmussen as he travels to England to learn as much as he can about the singer. This involves interviewing Drake’s parents and some of his schoolmates and friends, in Marlborough, Cambridge, and London, and learning about his upbringing, his studies, and his travels in Africa and France.
Rasmussen then turns what he has learned into imagined scenes. In other words, rather than merely reporting on what Drake’s life was like and what he did, Rasmussen imagines it, offering the reader a peek into the difficult, unusual singer. For example, Rasmussen imagines what it was like when Nick Drake bought a steel-stringed guitar in Salisbury (pp. 42-4). Nick sees the guitar in a window and he “is wondering what it would be like to hold that guitar, rap his knuckles against the shiny wood, strum the strings, and run his fingers up and down the fret board… The songs are already there. They are floating in the air in front of him. All Nick has to do now is learn how to play them.” (pp. 43-4)
But Rasmussen doesn’t leave them in silence; rather, he allows the reader to understand how Nick Drake’s life, in all its depressed, drug-addled imperfection, inspired music that even today is highly regarded and appreciated.
In another place, Rasmussen writes, “He sleeps late, spends the afternoons on the couch with Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal in one hand and his guitar in the other. He is writing poems about sunsets and unresolved love affairs, songs whose finely masked net of nostalgia and light melancholia seem to have been created in the subdued atmosphere of late night open air parties.” (p. 53). This – one out of many possible excerpts – reveals a few things about this book. One is the usage of the present tense, which makes this story – one that, after all, took place in the 1970s – come alive and feel very immediate. Also, Rasmussen weaves in an analysis of Drake’s lyrics into the text. He makes the connections between Drake’s songs and his life very clear. As he writes, “the secret of Nick’s songs is that they are all written three hours from speaking. In absolute silence.” (p. 95) But Rasmussen doesn’t leave them in silence; rather, he allows the reader to understand how Nick Drake’s life, in all its depressed, drug-addled imperfection, inspired music that even today is highly regarded and appreciated.
Rasmussen’s book was translated from the Danish by Bent Sørensen, who has managed to capture the poetry in the text. It is the most extensive biography of Nick Drake available, and it is sure to introduce more people to Drake’s work. Rasmussen writes: “He is thinking in fragments; lets himself be guided by sudden absurd fancies. And he is always philosophising about what business he has being in this body that so happens to bear the name of Nick Drake. Sure, he can pinch himself and feel the pain and thereby reassure himself that he is real, that he exists as a being made of flesh and blood. But behind all the grimaces, behind the shelter of his skin, and way into the bones, behind the throbbing of his pulse he feels that he is empty. Dead. A thing.” (p. 121)
Drake may have felt this way, but Rasmussen’s book ensures that Drake will not be remembered as “dead” or as “a thing”; the reader gets a glimpse into Drake’s life and music, and ultimately finds it full of “flesh and blood”.