‘Northern Sky’ – Nick Drake

Nick Drake

You can’t get more depressing than Nick Drake. One man who struggled with depression and may have committed suicide, playing often with just a single acoustic guitar. it’s a prescription for jumping off a bridge.

Yet “Northern Sky” is so uplifting. He must have written it on a good day. His acoustic guitar is still present, tuned to one of his favorite alternate tunings, DADGDG. But unlike his stark album Pink Moon, there are drums, organ, piano and celeste, with a chord progression that advances up the scale slightly, giving it a positive feeling. (None other than John Cale provided the keyboard playing.)

The song is in the key of E flat major, which, according to 18th century composer Christian Schubart, is a key “of love, devotion, [and] intimate conversation with God.” And indeed, it does sound as if Drake is having a conversation with the creator. His lyrics, usually morose, are especially positive:

I never felt magic crazy as this
I never saw moons knew the meaning of the sea
I never held emotion in the palm of my hand
Or felt sweet breezes in the top of a tree
But now you’re here
Brighten my northern sky.

Drake’s baritone voice is still a whisper, as if the moment is sacred and reverent. And the song ends with the drums stopped, leaving only guitar, piano and bells shimmering like morning dew on a blade of grass.

When I’m depressed, I play a positive song by a depressed man, which gives me hope that yes, today can be a good day. Not every day has to be a downer. There is hope. And if that doesn’t work, I just find a song that makes me happy.

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