In the long tradition of American leading men, it is a measure of Brad Pitt’s brilliance that he sits among those who can happily use their tropes to embody traditional roles like the strong and silent Jesse James, and yet also offer up manic swinging curveballs like Jeffrey Goines in 12 Monkeys. Central to all his on-screen success is an inherent dose of simple and indefinable coolness. While ‘cool’ might seem like a vapid word to apply to artistry, there is far more to it than any snuffy cynic would care to admit, and Pitt’s beloved performances are testimony to this.
Rather more inexplicable, however, is why for some reason we all hope that same silken smoothness of character applies off-screen. For better or for worse, movie stars can no longer uphold the same anonymity that character actors used to hold sacred. Whilst this might mean that they have a harder job separating themselves from their big-screen incarnations, the flip side is the passions that they get to share. The musician that Brad Pitt describes as his “musical idol” couldn’t possibly be more befittingly smooth.
Back in 2004, Pitt revealed: “I was introduced to Nick Drake’s music about five years ago and am a huge admirer of his records.” From a man who had previously touted a love for the blues-rock ways of The Black Keys, The White Stripes and co, this softer side proved very revealing. And for fellow Nick Drake fans the world over, the illuminating light that he got to shine on the deserving cult star was hugely appreciated.
Nowhere in the world of music have more ethereal tones been pressed to record. In fact, if Nick Drake’s wistful odes were any more silken then they could never have been etched onto something as bulky as vinyl. With its azure blue poetry, breezy production and a cacophonous bird song of musical flourishes, making music has never sounded so effortless. Its ability to harness the joys of summer is what beer commercials have trying to copy ever since.
The honeyed belle of Drake’s work, however, will forever be tinged with life’s inevitable soured twist owing to the tragedy of his own story. While Drake may now stand as a cult star who brightens the dismal days of millions, initially he failed the sell much more than 5000 records from his three studio albums. Dogged by shyness and a lack of commercial appeal, he struggled to make his breezy beauties felt amid the maelstrom of the early seventy’s era. With a myriad of other factors remaining darkened in the background, Drake drifted into an exiled obscuring and, eventually, at the age of just 26 in 1974, one of folk music’s greatest songwriters died of an overdose of anti-depressants.
Pitt, like so many other fans, would eventually discover the boon of his gilded back catalogue and in 2004 he helmed a BBC Radio 2 documentary titled Lost Boy – In Search of Nick Drake. The producers at the station had heard he was a huge admirer of Drake’s work, and when they reached out to him, he later stated: “When Radio 2 approached me to get involved in this project, I was delighted to be asked and please that I was able to fit it into my schedule.” Over the course of the show, he eulogises the star and digs into the depths of his enigmatic character from the tales of those who knew him best.
We dip into the archives today, because now more than ever, the sanguine bouquet of Drake’s bittersweet back catalogue seems to blossom. As the world reconciles the past years of hardship and heads into Autumn once more, songs like ‘Saturday Sun’ float on towards a silken conclusion like a fleeting patch of warm sun on a cold day. This notion of finding contentment despite tragedy is the highlight of Pitt’s documentary into Nick Drake and as such, it is befitting of his beauteous back catalogue. Just as Pitt, recommend you check out the works of his musical idol, it’s a motion we certainly second. Alas, we’re also pretty pleased to be sharing tastes with a star who clearly proves as smooth off-screen as he does on it.