this morning, while reading an article on nicolas poussin’s a dance to the music of time, i was struck by writer harry eyres’ observation on our misplaced obsession with reading too much into a painting. while it is certainly appealing to read poussin’s work as an esoteric painting with some secret meanings underneath, eyres suggests it is quite likely the opposite, that “it is simply one of the most poignant, poised, comprehensive visions of human life – what it is to be a human, living in time – that has ever been committed to canvas“.
that resonates strongly with how i listen to nick drake. his life and early death weighs heavily over his brief but consistently magnificent body of work, but i appreciate it best listening to it as it is. “time has told me”, the first song on his debut 1969 album five leaves left, probably reveals volumes on the troubled mind of the man who started off his career on frighteningly introspective hindsight and you can probably go on psychoanalyzing that. but stripped of this personal baggage, drake’s music contains quite simply the most broodingly romantic expressions of the human condition.
i’m not saying we shouldn’t look at biography and context when appreciating any piece of music, or work of art, for that matter. in fact, i can’t begin to stress how important that is. but sometimes i find myself guilty of reading so much into things that i miss the glaring beauty of the work itself – even in the simplest of songs like “time has told me” which, though hardly comparing in scale and grandeur to poussin’s masterpiece, most laudably shares with it an unspeakable beauty. such a rare, rare find it is. – dan.