An imagined conversation with Nick Drake

Originally published in ACME, the music section of the London News Review, 14 August 2004; recalled while writing a piece on the 40th anniversary of Nick Drake’s death

[Front Quad, Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge. Autumn of 1968. A raffish student sleeps lightly. A sprite flits through his window.]

ACME: Don’t wake up, Nick. This is ACME, visiting you from the Next Century.

Drake: What kind of a name is ‘ACME’? Am I stoned?

ACME: I don’t know. But you won’t remember this conversation when you wake up. I was inspired to visit you this afternoon when I was listening to your Cello Song on the bus and a drunk opposite me was trying to make a roll-up using a Five Leaves Left cigarette paper.

Drake: Why “Five Leaves Left”?

ACME: Well, your first LP will be called that. Did you notice that I said I was listening to you on the bus?

Drake: Yes, on some kind of portable music player, I expect. But did you say I was going to record…

ACME: …yes, a portable music player. [Proffers device to Drake] See? Not much bigger than a cigarette packet, and yet it holds two gazillion…

Drake: …yes, very impressive. I’m sure there are many good inventions in the future. You say people are going to want to hear my songs?

ACME: Well, um, not really. I mean, they’re great and everything, but, well, no.

Drake: I knew it. You know how I take my guitar to other chaps’ rooms after Hall? Well, most of them just ask if I know any Who. Last night, a friend of MacDonald’s took my Guild M20 and started trying to play Cinderella Rockefella and said it had been “tuned by a lunatic”.

ACME: No, I mean, your music is going to be really popular — honestly — in the long run. Even those songs you recorded over the summer at your mum’s become very desirable after your death. Of course, there are some who claim that if you hadn’t… oh, crap. You didn’t know that, did you?

Drake: Well, I knew I was going to die. The twenty-first century, you say? I suppose you’re not allowed to tell me when or how, though. It must be a Time Travellers’ Code.

ACME: Erm, yes. That’s exactly right. But, since it’s come up, in the future, we’re interested in things like whether artists should be able to control bootlegs, and who owns the recordings after an artist dies, and all sorts of other issues.

Drake: What do I care? I’m dead. [Chuckles.]

[Pause.]

Drake: So, what else can you tell me of the future? Will I get to have it off with Françoise Hardy?

ACME: Again, the Time Travellers’ Law dictates…

Drake: I thought it was a Code?

ACME: Yes, whichever. Well, I can tell you that you’ll write a song called Pink Moon and it will be used to advertise a German car on telly.

Drake: How terribly vulgar. Actually, you know, I’ve already written Pink Moon, but it’s called Into Yon Magickal Clouds at the moment.

ACME: Okay, well — I was hoping you’d ask me for some advice from The Future.

Drake:

ACME: Okay, so first of all: all that “but you all lost that magic”, “who can know the thoughts of Mary Jane” stuff…

Drake: …I’m really quite proud of lines like those. Last summer, we held this séance in Aix-en-Provence and it was just…

ACME: …fine. Well, just keep up your finger-picking.

Drake: What else?

ACME: You should probably finish your degree. And maybe find something to do in the day. You could work as a Porter in the Lodge here, or something quiet like that. That 100-yard dash could be useful for chasing drunk rowers off the Quad.

Drake: Tell me something useful. Who’s going to win the Grand National in, say, 1980?

[Pause.]

ACME: Seabiscuit?

Drake: Thanks. And what is it that eventually turns people on to my songs?

ACME: There’s this box set, and — hey, you’ll dig this. Brad Pitt does a documentary about you for the BBC. How about that?!

Drake: Who’s Brad Pitt?

ACME: Oh, yes. At the moment, he’s a snot-nosed five-year old American, but he doesn’t do the documentary now. It’s in 2004, when he’s like, I don’t know, Paul Newman.

Drake: Wow! Paul Newman! I can’t wait to hear that!

ACME: The, um, cosmic vibes are calling. I must return to my own time.

Drake: One last question, Mysterious Stranger.

[Pause.]

That version of Get Together isn’t on the Tamworth bootleg, is it?

ACME: No, no. They get rid of the rubbish. Now sleep.

[The room is filled with an unpleasant smoker’s snoring which ill-becomes a delicate youth.]

ACME: I’ve got to stop doing this. Maybe I’ll go and bother MacDonald. One last job.

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