Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Donovan's Delusion

I have a fairly massive back-issue library of music magazines and occasionally, usually on a Sunday, I'll grab a stack and just start leafing through them to see what I might have missed the first time around.
I came across an issue of MOJO that listed the top 101 Beatles songs with commentary on each by a 'famous' musician; some contemporaries of the Beatles and some followers.
The entry on one of my favorite Beatles songs (Dear Prudence) by Donovan made me laugh out loud and induced more than a few cringes at the same time. Here's part of the quote:
"At the height of our fame, we'd kind of isolated ourselves. And relieved of Super-fame, we found it exhilerating sitting around with just acoustic guitars again and just playing. John showed a lot of interest in the Carter Family finger style I was using, and over 2 days I taught him, and he immediately started writing in my new style. Out of it came 'Julia' and 'Dear Prudence'."

OK,'s what I found cringe inducing about the afore mentioned statement: "At the height of OUR fame"; "relieved of SUPER FAME"; and the fact that Donovan, who only wrote 4 really great songs and one really good album in his career, is taking credit for one of Lennon's best compositions without the possibility of rebuttle by the deceased Lennon.
And was Donovan ever "super famous" on a par with The Beatles? I don't think so. He comes across as a delusional old prat desperate to re-write his history.
That being said, the use of Hurdy Gurdy Man in the film Zodiac is one of the most affecting and spine chilling in all of filmdom.



Harry Ames, Jr. said...

OK, Unc, I have to get my man Donovan's back on this one. He's taken a lot of guff after being dubbed the "British Dylan" back in '64. If you watched him wilt in Dylan's hotel room when Bob laid It's All Over Now, Baby Blue on him in the D.A. Pennebaker doc Don't Look Back you'd have to agree the guy has suffered. So, let's cut him some slack.
Donovan WAS huge back in the mid-60's. Was he on a par with The Beatles fame-wise? No, but who was? He DID chart several singles and was probably more well-known to the average earthling than Bob Dylan was at that time. Catch The Wind, Colours, Sunny Goodge Street, Epistle To Dippy, Sunshine Superman, Fat Angel, Young Girl Blues and Mellow Yellow were hits (and pretty good folk/pop), so he WAS famous. Technically he was correct when he refered to "our fame" in connection to the Fab Four.

Historical footnote: Donovan, along with The Beatles, a couple of Beach Boys and Mia Farrow did go to India together to sit at the feet of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1968. It turned out to be a very fertile time for the songwriters there. John and Paul wrote most of the White Album between meditation sessions and photo ops. Donovan wrote Hurdy Gurdy Man (with a little help from George Harrison) and I think you could say there's a little Donovan influence on Paul's Blackbird and Mother Nature's Son. So, Donovan DID travel in the same circles as The Beatles and was friendly, if not bosom buddies, with Paul in particular.
I would also postulate that along with his producer, Mickie Most, Donovan helped furthur the careers of session sidemen like Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page, who both played on his signature albums Sunshine Superman and Mellow Yellow.
Furthur, I would credit Donovan with being the first to incorporate jazz flavorings into his folk, rock mix. Sunny Goodge Street (Mingus! Mellow! Fantastic!) as well as several other tracks utilized a jazz combo to great effect.
Now, to say he only wrote 4 good songs and made only 1 decent album is arguable. I would put the albums Sunshine Superman, Mellow Yellow and Gift From A Flower To A Garden on or very near my Top 100. Yes, Gift From A Flower To A Garden got a little (OK, a lot) dippy, flower powerish and feeble. But, if nothing else, it was certainly an album that documented its era. And with songs like Wear Your Love Like Heaven, There Is A Mountain, Widow With Shawl (A Portrait), The Enchanted Gypsy and Tinker and the Crab it had its share of highlights. It had a rainbows and unicorns feel to it, but unlike Marc Bolan, it wasn't was very much what Donovan was and probably still is. He went on to have hits like Atlantis, Barabajagal (recorded with the Jeff Beck Group), Jennifer Juniper, Poor Cow and others before he dissipated into the paisley firmament.
Ol' Don may be guilty of trying to glom onto The Beatles' fame but he is probably still clinging to those days after having been all but dismissed by the music industry. He WAS a a major player in the pop world and deserves a better fate. Maybe some of his stuff doesn't hold up, but a lot of it does. Listen to Hey Gyp (Dig The Slowness) and tell me when it was recorded.
Anyway, that's my rant. Thanks for listening.

Uncle E said...

haha, I KNEW I could bait you out of comment retirement!!!!

Holly A Hughes said...

Well done, Unc. Eliciting that fine essay from Harry was the best thing you've done in weeks.

Now go listen to Barabajagal 20 times and hopefully you too will understand why Bob Dylan was the American Donovan, and not the other way around.