Nick Drake suffered from severe depression for most of his life and passed away aged 26, on this day in 1974; the official verdict on his death was suicide. Largely overlooked as an artist in his lifetime, he has found posthumous love and appreciation worldwide, where his untimely end has added to his melancholy mystique.
His chart contains difficult placements, certainly, though also abundant talent and fortune. Chart lord Mercury with fifth lord Venus in the ascendant, added to Jupiter in Sagittarius creates a powerful Saraswati Yoga, a combination for intelligence, eloquence and fame in poetry. Drake looked like a star, was well connected, and got his first recording contract while still a scholarship student at Cambridge. Yet Sun in the twelfth plus Venus, twelfth lord in the first house, suggest his chronic shyness and inability to connect with a live audience, which made him a hard sell for the fame and exposure he so desperately wanted.
June 19th 1948, 07:15am, Rangoon, Burma
In Jyotish, depression and mental illness are shown by afflictions to the Moon and also Mercury, karakas of the mind. Moon in Scorpio in the sixth*, in Saturn-ruled Anuradha, is dark, intense and agitated, and aspected by Mars in Leo also reveals an underlying fieriness which can become self-destructive - his former producer tells of Drake’s deep bitterness that he was not more successful and appreciated as an artist. Chandra lagna (Moon-ascendant chart) likewise puts his Gemini stellium in the 8th house, which offers more clues to his brooding nature.
He was by all accounts a thorough introvert and mystery to people who knew him. Both Mercury and Venus are retrograde, and in such a Mercurial chart give an asexual quality - Drake had no known close female relationships. In Ardra, the nakshatra of the teardrop, these planets give a stormy and volatile quality, more so for their aspect from otherworldly Ketu. Drake’s secondary progressed Mercury went direct at age 16, which was also the time he entered Mercury mahadasha. Progressed Venus too, had just turned stationary direct at the time of his death. This is an important turning point in most people’s lives and one wonders, had he lived, if his fortunes in love and life might have changed.
The fourth house of happiness is hemmed between Mars and Ketu, and aspected by Saturn. Neptune sitting in his fourth gives a wistful and escapist quality, while Saturn in the second house and its debilitated lord, Moon suggest a difficult relationship with his home and family. Malefics in the second and sixth are also perilous for drug use, whether prescription or recreational, especially in a chart with no earth. Drake’s musical ambitions in a conventional middle-class background made him a black sheep – nothing unusual in that – though fourth lord Mercury strong in the ascendant shows the support he received from his family during his ongoing illnesses.
One might have expected a stronger natal Saturn influence his chart, though the transiting planet cast a long shadow: it first passed through his natal twelfth house from mid-1971 – opposing his natal Moon – during which time Drake was hospitalized following a nervous breakdown. Saturn then crossed his Gemini stellium from June 1973 and sat on his ascendant at the time of his death. From Chandra lagna, this is Ashtama Shani, Saturn’s Eighth house transit, a notoriously tough and intense period. For a fragile and predominantly airy young man, with relatively little life perspective, this must have been a truly despairing time.
Nick Drake died at his parent’s home on November 24/25th 1974 after taking a huge overdose of antidepressants (Mercury-Mars dasha). Some friends and family disputed the suicide verdict, claiming that he was recovering some stability at the time, though ingesting thirty pills does not seem like an accident. Since his passing, Drake has taken on the archetype of a doomed Romantic poet, and his tragic life gives his ethereal music even greater poignancy. RIP.
* This thoughtful article based in Western astrology also calls particular attention to Nick Drake’s natal Moon.