This month (October 2016), I enjoyed a rare treat, going to the Grammy Museum with my good friends Julie and Brooks McKinney to see none other than Donovan, an icon in the music world of the sixties era. We listened and gleaned insight to his life and lyrics through an interview for the first part of the show. With our new found insider information, we enjoyed his performance even more, and joined in for a certain amount of singing along. What a grand evening. Beyond expectations, I loved the finale, getting to meet Donovan in person after the show. He greeted me with “you must be the lady in red!” And I replied, “we’ve met before” and proceeded to share a memory for which he thanked me profusely.
Indeed, we had met before, after a show in another small intimate setting not unlike this evening. It was my 21st birthday and I wrote an account in my memoir. Although my very wise editor did well to keep me “on track” (if you’ll pardon the pun), I could not resist mentioning significant moments experienced in the sixties and seventies, during my formative years. Besides, the man responsible for my first meeting, Gary and I recently agreed that this, of all the concerts and events we attended, the evening with Donavan and John Sebastian was one of the most significant and memorable moments of the era.
(Book excerpt from “A Long Time Coming: Running through the women’s marathon revolution”)
“At that time I could be found most weekends at the Troubadour or other venues seeing and occasionally meeting bands and individuals such as The Byrds, Elton John, Donovan, John Sebastian, John Denver, Peter, Paul & Mary, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Buffy St. Marie, Cat Stevens, Simon and Garfunkel, Harry Nilsson and Randy Newman. [Expand that list to include Phil Ochs and Gordon Lightfoot, also usually seen at the Troubadour and of the same genre.]
A journal entry describes one such occasion:
My “birthday happening,” when Gary and Jeff took me to the Troubadour where we saw John Sebastian. While the show before ours was SRO [standing room only], we got a front row table for the 11 P.M. show and were treated to an added bonus when he brought Donovan up on stage. The audience begged for more, they locked the doors, served more wine and went on for a couple more hours! We even spent time talking with them both after the show. I got home at 4:30 A.M. and had a rough time getting to work the next morning at 7:00. (Note: Gary recently reminded me that they had “let” me purchase wine at a liquor store, telling the clerk it was my 21st birthday after all. True. But neither of them were 21!)
Given that my job, classes and training took over all my waking hours every day, I have a void of knowledge about all television throughout my college years. But I gleaned a great appreciation for all things musical. Much of the music of the times reflected the social and political events in history, like the Kent State shootings memorialized in lyrics, most notably Neil Young’s “Ohio.”
By the late 1960s, I had transferred from Pierce to San Fernando Valley State College. Valley State was no “Berkeley,” but we had our share of controversy and protest. In May 1970 my school was closed down during a strike protesting the Vietnam war.
The overlying backdrop throughout these years was, of course, the war. I still have correspondence from the few friends and one cousin who were sent to Vietnam, and from other friends who were conscientious objectors and stayed behind. The issue of Vietnam permeated every aspect of life in the 1960s and affected everyone directly or indirectly.”
How fortunate I am to hear Donovan again all these many years later! If only I could remember everything he spoke about in his interview. I did come away with an enlightened view of the year 1966 (my high school graduation year). In answer to an interview question about the significance of this time period, Donovan pointed out some of the top albums on the charts in that single year included the Beatles’ “Revolver,” Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds,” Bob Dylan’s “Blonde on Blonde,” and of course Donovan’s hit single, “Catch the Wind” followed soon after by “Colours.”
He elaborated on the “why” stating something to the effect there was the invasion of pop culture with folk music with its meaningful lyrics, whether it was about protest or civil rights or exploration of levels of consciousness. For another, he said pop music didn’t expect the bohemian invasion. And lastly, we were just “really good!”
He told us about his rise to fame, those who influenced him along the way, as well as those he influenced along the way. Repeatedly he made mention of his mission to introduce us (baby-boomers) to the bohemian manifesto. He spoke of artists of the time period and not exclusively musicians. Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Alan Ginsburg, Jack Kerouac, Joan Baez and of course Bob Dylan. We heard something, (but I did read more later), about the contrast and comparison of Donovan and Dylan over the years. There were many stories, too, about his relationships with the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin.
In his autobiography he states “I’d begun in earnest to introduce the Bohemian Manifesto into my work and practice of compassion two years before the bloom of Flower Power and All You Need is Love. This denim-clad beatnik from Scotland with a limp and an attitude was becoming shaman.” In his epilogue he said “I accomplished my aim of introducing my generation the Bohemian Manifesto of Change. . . . ”
And Donovan, ever the Hurdy Gurdy man, “brings us songs of love,” as he would have us “wear your love like heaven.” He spoke frequently of his beloved Linda who was clearly his muse. When you listen to Sunshine Superman, the sunset they shared was also California’s Sunset Boulevard.
Listening to “What Goes On” now takes on a much deeper meaning “if you know what I mean.” (Note, he’s referring to Dylan and Joan Baez aka: Joanie as opposed to Joni.)
“What goes on? Chick-a-chick.
What goes on? I really wanna know.
What goes on all around me,
What goes on? I really wanna know.
When in should come-a my dream woman,
She got sequins in her hair,
Like she stepped out off of a Fellini film,
She sat in a white straw chair . . . . .
We spoke of a common kaleidoscope
And the pros and the cons of Zen
And he spoke and-a said for a piece of cake
He really did have a yen.
Bobby Dylan he sat “the Mad Hatter,”
A broken hour glass in his hand,
And-a Joannie sat in a white lace
Looking cool with a black lace fan.
What goes on? Chick-a-chick.
What goes on? I really wanna know . . . . .”
A troubadour tells stories of his time, and “Sunny South Kensington” is a good example of that.
“Come take a walk in sunny South Kensington
Any day of the week.
See the girl with the silk Chinese blouse on,
You know she ain’t no freak.
Come loon soon down Cromwell Road, man,
You got to spread your wings.
A-flip out, skip out, trip-out, and a-make your stand, folks,
To dig me as I sing.Jean-Paul Belmondo and-a Mary Quant got
Stoned to say the least
Ginsberg, he ended up-a dry and so
He a-took a trip out East.
If I’m a-late waitin’ down the gate, it’s such a ‘raz’ scene,
A groovy place to live.
In the Portobella I met a fella with a cane umbrella,
Who must’ve used a sieve.So come loon soon down Cromwell Road, man,
You got to spread your wings.
A-flip out, skip out, trip-out and a-make your stand, folks,
To dig me as I sing.
Hmm, hmm, hmm…..”
Donovan is a poet, an artist, and a real blend of all he loves, songs of social change, folk, jazz, and blues. The same could be said of Joni Mitchell for that matter. I enjoyed all the troubadours of the day and frequently went to hear Buffy St. Marie, Joan Baez and others such as Gordon Lightfoot and Phil Ochs. Although I heard Pete Seeger on multiple occasions, I can’t say I ever saw Woody Guthrie, although I certainly saw Arlo. In fact I saw him with Pete Seeger on stage here in Topanga later in life, around 1990 I believe. This was at Theatricum Botanicum, Will Geer’s place, where a cabin for Wood Guthrie was kept. But I digress.
Isn’t life just like the Circle Game?
“We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return, we can only look behind
From where we’ve come
And go ’round and ’round and ’round
In the circle game.”