Alright. I realize that this isn’t TMZ. I also realize that coverage of the Heath Ledger tragedy is ubiquitous and gratuitous. Bear with me.
When I stepped into LA’s Egyptian Theatre on one night this past October, I felt like I was amongst family. I had the pleasure of attending a special one-night engagement of a Nick Drake film festival of sorts, aptly titled A Place To Be. The word ‘special’ is thrown around far too liberally in our society of consumption, but this event truly was special – or at least unique. For, you see, Nick Drake’s close friend and producer Joe Boyd (the man that first had faith in Nick’s potential), his sister Gabrielle, and another close friend Robyn Frederick (Nick covered her song ‘Been Smokin’ Too Long’) were in attendance. After the screening of the feature-length documentary A Skin Too Few, the three Drake compatriots offered a brief but informative Q&A with the audience – topics ranged from the woefully superficial (“how many girlfriends did Nick have?”) to the insightfully investigative (“what time signature did Nick use in River Man?”). After they finished answering questions, the programme moved onto a series of short, Drake-inspired “music videos.” These were original video pieces created by a roster of Nick’s more notable acolytes. One of the videos – a stark, moody, black-and-white study of a man’s depression and eventual suicide – was set to Nick’s delicately macabre final recording, Black Eyed Dog. This was Heath Ledger’s contribution.
When I saw the clip, despite its aesthetic beauty, I wasn’t moved. The narrative seemed too convenient. The subject matter…cliche. Clearly, the situation has changed. Heath Ledger is dead. The cause: an apparent overdose of sleeping pills, almost exactly mirroring the circumstances of Nick’s demise. The correlations between the two men are impossible to ignore. Pondering my opinion of the video now, sentamentalism seems a convenient crutch to lean on. Was I missing the point on my first viewing? Was it, in fact, genius?
No. But that’s not the point.
Heath Ledger was a troubled man who found a heroes in role-martyrs. The video was an honest expression of his state of mind and Nick’s song was the soundtrack to his suffering. There’s nothing more I could ask for.