The late 1960’s was America’s revolution of peace that flourished and spread through the rest of the world, even though we were trapped in a grueling war. The children of the revolution were commonly known as hippies, a term many say now with a lick of disdain. It was happy, free, rebellious, and any other term with positive meaning behind it. For myself, being too young, I did not get to experience this era.
And quite oddly enough, the idea I associate most with the love, peace, freedom movement is Donovan--the boy that everyone accused to be a Dylan imitator, and later, to the British government, a leading figure in drug use. But in most households today, as I’ve observed, Donovan is a forgotten legend.
When I first discovered Donovan (my interest spiked after I saw 200 Motels where they mentioned him and associated him with the hippies), my dad regarded my interest as dumb since Donovan was a man of few hits. How could you aspire to make it in music if your idol was barely successful in music himself?
My dad made the bold mistake of reducing the man to a no-name (such as The Starfires, who mysteriously fell off of the Earth after a 45 that everyone searches and pays large sums of money for). In reality, though, Donovan has made hundreds of great songs, has had his run with the best of the bests, and can probably be given partial credit to bringing Led Zeppelin together [Page, Jonesy, and Bonzo played together on “Hurdy Gurdy Man.” Later Plant would appear on “Barabajagal” with the Jeff Beck Group, but this didn’t happen until 2 years after the formation of Zeppelin.]
Donovan has spanned the genres, too. The troubadour started out with his folk roots and idolization of Woody Guthrie (“This Machine Kills Fascists” vs. “This Machine Kills”), and then, much like Dylan (I can feel the waves of jarring criticism and comparison slowly coming), became electric. Donovan claims that he was electric a year before Dylan in his book Hurdy Gurdy Man: The Autobiography of Donovan.
Unlike Dylan, though, Donovan’s songs tend to deal with more censored subjects and a G-rated view of life (“Happiness Runs” and “I Love My Shirt,” for example, both off Barabajagal, and, boy, do I love that album!!). That’s not to say he doesn’t have a serious look upon life (“Hi, It’s Been A Long Time” from Hurdy Gurdy Man , “The War Drags On” from Catch the Wind), but he tends to focus on the happy more than the sad.
But I probably wouldn’t have gained the respect for the man that I have if I hadn’t read his autobiography (that statement is an exaggeration; my love for him runs too deep to only be based upon the autobiography). He connected me to his soul and for a whole summer I saw through the Troubadour’s eyes. So, if you want to listen to something happy-go-lucky choose Donovan, and if you want to read something that combines all of your emotions into one oddity read Hurdy Gurdy Man: The Autobiography of Donovan.