Music Docs: Nick Drake and St. Thomas

I devour documentaries. The most consistent topics in the documentaries I choose to watch are music and biography, and the best documentaries put the two together.

A few months ago, I discovered two docs back to back that resonated with me as well as struck me in terms of their similarities, which hide behind what seem like stark contrasts. I was inspired today unexpectedly to focus on these two artists as an entry in the special interests series I’ve been writing and to also tie this interest into a closer focus on one of the most poignant similarities that ties the two artists together—depression.

Before engaging with other adult Aspies through social media, I read a great deal on the topic and both of these experiences demonstrate widely just how common depression is within the population of autistic adults, and especially women. It is almost impossible to extricate autism in adults from the often comorbidly occurring afflictions of depression and anxiety. Conversations about depression have risen a bit in recent years, from what I’ve read, following the suicides of prominent figures like Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade and Chris Cornell, but still definitely not something people feel comfortable talking about outside of the online forums or the safe anonymity of commenting on a news story. One of the most common things you hear are from people who are just shocked that the individuals just “didn’t seem depressed to me.”

Both Nick Drake and Thomas Hansen died very young as a result of ingesting too much or a mix of pills, involving antidepressants. Both were very sensitive, intelligent and aware human beings who seemed to be simply unimpressed with the world they’d been thrust into and desperately tried to alleviate the pain of this disappointment through music. But when even the creation of music failed to bring peace, they each slowly faded from the earth until all that was left to sweep up was the crude flesh of their human bodies.

Nick’s family tragically recounts the things that Nick felt during his depression in terms of his “failure at everything he had tried.”

“He said to me once, ‘I have failed in everything I have tried to do…’ He felt this, that he had failed to get through to the people that he wanted to talk to.”

-Nick Drake’s sister, Gabrielle, from the documentary A Skin Too Few

This quote went straight to my heart. As I feel many women on the spectrum may be able to relate, the pain of loneliness that autism brings in terms of failing to connect with others is sometimes quite unbearable. And even our best efforts to speak in a language few understand in order to reach someone who may feel the same often fails. The idea that our loneliest moments are often those when we are surrounded by people who love us is just incomprehensible to people who have not felt the deep isolation that being a woman on the spectrum brings.

I believe the capacity to feel and understand love comes in a large number of gradations. Some women on the spectrum, like Temple Grandin, do not seem to be burdened by the loneliness that other autistic women feel who have been given a taste of understanding but who do not receive the easy pleasure of receiving and feeling love freely given by others.

Thomas Hansen, a musician from Norway, is the other artist I’d like to introduce. He also lived a short, tortured life, but he expressed his pain in a much more aggravated, extroverted way as opposed to Drake’s complete withdrawal from life. Obviously their illnesses are not identical and they had different struggles, but I am interested in the commonality of depression which contributed to the suffering of each artist. Interested why or how? I don’t know exactly. I feel a small amount of kinship with their suffering, having lived with cyclic depression for years myself. I also understand turning to music as a way of expressing that pain in honest ways.

This sounds like quite a downer of a post, and I apologize. Though the ending of these two lives is a tragic loss, I also wanted very much to bring their music into your worlds if you’ve never heard of them. If there is a chance that these two artists can touch another life the way they’ve touched mine, I am absolutely going to introduce them.

Burn the Place You Hide is a great documentary about Thomas Hansen, and it is available to watch on Amazon Prime. I highly recommend it. Thanks everyone for reading. Have a great week.

“I am special, but it hurts,

Your catalog has made it worse.”