“Pink Moon,” the title track from the 1972 album by Nick Drake, is one of those songs that stays with you. But what does it mean? The lyrics, like the arrangement and production of the song, are spare:
I saw it written and I saw it say
Pink moon is on its way
And none of you stand so tall
Pink moon gonna get ye all
And it’s a pink moon
It’s easy to see “Pink Moon” as a song about death given that Nick Drake was visibly battling his demons at the time he recorded it, not to mention that he died within a couple of years of this song’s release from an overdose of his prescribed antidepressant at only 26 years of age. In addition, the lines “And none of you stand so tall/Pink moon gonna get ye all” invite this sort of interpretation. The use of the archaic word “ye” give this song a biblical, apocalyptic connotation. Still, this interpretation doesn’t seem right to me. Of course, as Anthony DeCurtis points out, by the time Nick Drake recorded the album Pink Moon, he “had retreated so deeply into his own internal world that it is difficult to say what the songs are ‘about.'” In any case, I was curious to see what I could find out about the imagery of a pink moon.
I have a thing about reference books, with books about symbology being a particular weakness. Every so often I give in to the temptation to buy another one to add to the shelf. None of the books I consulted had anything to say about a pink moon, even though all of them, such as A Dictionary of Symbols by J.E. Cirlot, had quite a bit to say about the symbolism of the moon. While the new moon may represent death, a more common view of the moon across cultures is that the lunar cycles represent death and rebirth. Also fundamental to the moon’s imagery is that, with some notable exceptions, the moon is fairly universally regarded as feminine. Coloring the moon pink seems to be doubling down on the feminine imagery of the moon. In this light “Pink Moon” could be seen as a song about irresistable–if perhaps unattainable–beauty. Then again, if the pink appearance of the moon is a reference to an eclipse, then this would indicate an “ill omen, heralding disaster” (from The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols) Or it could be about heroin. Or it could be about the “fallout from nuclear holocaust.” Whatever the case, “Pink Moon” is a hauntingly beautiful song.
In his book White Bicycles: Making Music in the 1960s, producer Joe Boyd devotes a considerable amount of attention to Nick Drake. When Boyd sold his production company Witchseason the contract included a clause stating that Nick Drake’s albums can never go out of print. Though Nick Drake did not enjoy commercial success during his lifetime, sales of his albums grew steadily in the years following his death and spiked in 1999 when Volkswagen used the song “Pink Moon” in a commercial for the VW Cariolet.
In this commercial the pink moon epitomizes the unspoken wonder these friends share in the natural beauty that surrounds them. Would Nick Drake have approved of how his song was used? Who knows? It’s just a shame that he made his exit so soon.