In 1936, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s career was on a downward slope. His fourth (and final) novel published two years earlier—Tender Is the Night, which he considered his greatest achievement—was met with middling reviews and sales. Afterward, he was burnt out on writing, worried that he’d peaked at a young age, and feeling unfulfilled both creatively and personally. Fitzgerald was 39. He’d begun to crack up.

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So Fitzgerald’s writing turned inward. In “The Crack-Up,” published as a trio of essays in Esquire in early 1936, the struggling author analyzed everything in his life and psyche holding him back. He described himself as “a cracked plate, the kind that one wonders whether it is worth preserving.”

Seventy-seven years later, Robin Pecknold, the 27-year-old frontman of Fleet Foxes, stumbled upon the essay for the first time, buried in a collection of the famed author’s assorted work. “It was just kind of tucked in there with 25 other essays,” Pecknold tells me of the book in which he first found “The Crack-Up.” “There’s a lot that resonated with where I was at in my life around that time… [H]im feeling tired or wrecked, or having to over-perform in daily life, and finding new things to care about.” Fitzgerald’s very personal words rang true for Pecknold, who just a year before had put his critically acclaimed band on hold at the peak of their career.

Shawn Brackbill

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In 2008, when Pecknold was just 22 years old, Fleet Foxes’ self-titled debut was met with critical acclaim and commercial success, eventually earning Gold status five years after its release. Its influence on the culture was more immediate; it represented the natural course for the subgenre of “indie folk,” which had begun simmering in the late ’90s and early aughts. Fleet Foxes ushered it into the mainstream with a simple authenticity and vocal harmonies that returned the genre to its more natural roots. The band followed that up with the equally stunning Helplessness Blues in 2011, which hit No. 4 on the Billboard 200. But after touring that album, Pecknold started to break—and Fleet Foxes followed suit with an indefinite hiatus in 2012.

“I [had been] playing music basically from age 14 to 26,” Pecknold says. “Then I was going back to school, and I was looking for other things besides music to do, because I’ve been really one-dimensional up to that point. I guess I was wondering if if I would ever make music my main focus again.” Lost in his own head, Pecknold retreated from the public eye, focusing on himself independent from his music that made him an indie hero. “Why would music ever give someone trouble?” he asks. “It’s just, like, sound. But the other stuff around it can make you—or at least made me—wither a little bit and want to retreat.”

“Why would music ever give someone trouble?” Pecknold asks. “It’s just, like, sound. But the other stuff around it can make you—or at least made me—wither a little bit and want to retreat.”

It was during that retreat from music, when he enrolled at the Columbia University School for General Studies, that he first read Fitzgerald’s essay. He read and re-read the piece. He keeps a marked-up version at home, and has a copy of the original issue of Esquire in which the essay first appeared—a gift from his girlfriend at the time, who bought it for him for his 30th birthday.



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