Nick Drake, “Day is Done” (1969): One Track Mind

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We are made of thin paper: one tear, and we are torn apart. This image of human frailty, taken from a Dutch writer, seems a fitting counterpart to the songs of Nick Drake. His great talents as a songwriter were only matched by his difficulties on the material plane. A frail frame that seemed unable to weather the storms of life, and a weightless voice born of the wind and the rain, Drake died in 1974 at just 26.

One of his most haunting songs closes the first side of his 1969 debut album Five Leaves Left. “When Day is Done” is a meditation on the end that seems to presage Drake’s own brief and disappointing career in music. For once, the production that tarnished many of Drake’s early recordings is tastefully done, and in tune with the song’s emotional content.

A violin gently weaves a mournful melody around the verses, which evoke a series of autumnal images. “When the night is cold,” Nick Drake sings, “Some get by but some get old, just to show life’s not made of gold, when the night is cold.” Yet the final farewell is also a return to the beginning: the closing lines of the verses echo their first lines, and the opening verse recurs at the end of the song.

“When Day is Done” is one of Drake’s saddest and most beautiful songs. Its beauty lies in its fragility, its perfect match of words and music, and its airy vocals that seem to float from a different world. In its five brief verses, it paints a portrait of a great artist and troubled human being, who truly seemed made out of thin paper. One breeze, and Nick Drake was blown away.

Kasper Nijsen

Kasper Nijsen

When not submerged in translator's duties both tedious and necessary, Kasper Nijsen enjoys exploring the less-visited shores of popular music and writing about his exploits for various online magazines. Though born at the tail-end of the 1980s, his musical interests are often found to have strong links with '60s and '70s rock and pop music. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Kasper Nijsen
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