“Caterpillar sheds it’s skin to find a butterfly within.”
Our last article was about the legendary Rolling Stones, now we shift the a peaceful musician with a butterfly soul, Donovan. “Britain’s response to Bob Dylan ” – struck right off the Scottish media have teenage young man when he first appeared on songs.
What is common in Dylan and Donovan? Both men drew from their country’s folk treasure, neither has a really good voice, both began their careers with acoustic guitars in their hands, and tried more complex orchestrations, both had protest songs at the beginning of their careers, both had wind as a topic among their first major successes – topic (Blowin’ in The Wind – Catch The Wind). Both became true poets. That’s it, that’s all. Then the whole story seemed to go off the air.
Donald Leitch Philip was born on 10 May 1946 in Mayhill near Glasgow, his parents were factory workers. As a child he fell through polio, so he limps a little bit to this day. His parents love for folk songs was his first inspiration, when he started playing guitar at the age of 14. He soon dropped out from school, he rather set sail to gather and enjoy the free “beatnik-feeling ‘experiences.
In addition to the English and Scottish folk songs, traditional blues also grasped him. He played songs like to this to earn a living during his loiterings. Peter Eden and Geoff Stevens from the Pye Records found the man in Manchester like this, for whom he made his first demo recordings.
This became the foundation of his first album, What ‘s Bin Did and What’s Bin Hid ‘s which included two songs from his single, Catch The Wind and Josie, Woody Guthrie ‘s song adaptation, Car Car and the Yiddish song of Aaron Zeitlin and Sholom Secunda, which is known in countless versions, a few years before Joan Baez even aired it. In America, the Donovan opus was released as Catch The Wind instead of the title with the Scottish dialects.
The silent bard was already over his first US gig –he just sang together with Baez at the 1965 Newport Festival, yes, where Dylan was barracked- and the meeting with the alterego, when he offered his second album for his fans on the October 22, 1965, with the title Fairytale.
Flower power, peace, free love. Turn your back on the system and live freely, happily in harmony with nature and make love freely with anyone. Donovan is speaking about these things. From today’s standpoint this may seem to be a little bit naïve kind of philosophy. But during the hippie era people really believed that things can get better, and the arrival of a more truthful world is possible. They thought that the caterpillar shed it’s skin, and the time of the butterfly has arrived.
That the new golden age will come, that the age of Aquarius will bring new perspectives and new walks of life. The flower children are closely linked to the new age movement, a secularized form of esotericism. The new age is a holistic view of the world with a new approach to the traditional spiritual principles with many branches. It can be considered as a renaissance of Western spirituality.
The main feature of the movement is the attitude toward the questions of morality, which oversteps the notions of good and bad of dualism. The members of the movement reject the Christian emphasis on sin and guilt, believing that this generates fear and negativity. According to them, negative events in one’s life are not the results of evil, but lessons contributing to the spiritual development of the individual.
“One of the few things on which all scholars are agreed concerning New Age is that it is difficult to define. Often, the definition given actually reflects the background of the scholar giving the definition. Thus, the New Ager views New Age as a revolutionary period of history dictated by the stars; the Christian apologist has often defined new age as a cult; the historian of ideas understands it as a manifestation of the perennial tradition; the philosopher sees New Age as a monistic or holistic worldview; the sociologist describes New Age as a new religious movement (NRM); while the psychologist describes it as a form of narcissism.”
— Religious studies scholar Daren Kemp, 2004
New age certainly had a great effect on this singer, this is perceptible on the deepness of his songs.
Let’s investigate the six top songs of Donovan:
6. Catch the wind
This song is about unconditional, mature love which is platoninc at the same time. The line “Ah, but I may as well try and catch the wind” expresses a form of resignation, Donovan sadly realizes that his dreams and the harsh reality of this world is hard to synchronize.
Love involves a lot of pain and disappointment besides it’s beauties. I don’t agree with those, who think that Donovan was only a Bob Dylan counterfeit, he had a character, but this song undoubtedly resembles the style of the great folk hero. Especially the part with the vibrating harmonica.
5. Mellow Yellow
The lyrics of Mellow Yellow is not very easy to understand. Some may even think that it does not make any sense at all.
Donovan says the song is actually about a fourteen-year-old girl exploring her sexuality and getting to the point where she will soon start using a vibrator — a yellow model called “Mellow Yellow.” But this is just an interpretation, maybe he was just very enthusiastic about young girls. Evil be to him who evil thinks.
4. There is a mountain
The lyrics refer to a Buddhist saying by Qingyuan Weixin:
“Before I had studied Chan (zen) for thirty years, I saw mountains as mountains, and rivers as rivers. When I arrived at a more intimate knowledge, I came to the point where I saw that mountains are not mountains, and rivers are not rivers. But now that I have got its very substance I am at rest. For it’s just that I see mountains once again as mountains, and rivers once again as rivers.”
The song expresses the versatility and ambiguity of life: everything can be considered as something different, it all depends on the aspect of the observer. Everything is one, so every element may be exchanged to another. The things are like a concatenation with commutable links. And the starting point equals the terminus, which is nothingness. In between are the wavering altitudes and abysses.
Colours is a beautiful love song. It is rather chiruppy without any pessimism. Donovan speaks about the bright side of love and passion. Bondless togetherness, the beauty of the nature. Severity and naiveté.
It is like an impressionist painting which may be pleasantly enfiladed with our eyes. As if you could hear the dash of colours and the subtle game of the lights. Psychedelic synaesthesia.
2. Riki Tiki Tavi
The title springs from “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi”, a short story in The Jungle Book (1894) by Rudyard Kipling about the adventures of a valiant young mongoose, who kills snakes.
The story of the song symbolizes the struggle of freedom seeking men against the odd, ingrained practices of entrenched institutions owned by the all-time owners of power. In short, the status quo. Donovan suggests that we do not really need education or the “assistance” of the system, everybody can figure out important things in his life on his own, we are all part of a collective consciousness, an indigenous knowledge which flows freely in the invisible channels of the spirit.
They just give us to believe that we don’t know nothing. This humiliation begins during the childhood, with the dark sarcasm in the classrooms. The organizations want us to think that we cannot live without their “help”, but is this sure?
“Know, oh prince, that between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the Sons of Aryas, there was an Age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars.”
–Robert E. Howard, The Complete Chronicles of Conan
The myth of Atlantis, the lost continent has long preoccupied the imagination of the esoterics. The introduction of the song is a quiet monologue claiming that Atlantis was a very advanced antediluvian civilization, and that Atlantean colonists were the basis of the mythological gods of ancient times.
“ The song is a quiet monologue ”
Aware of their fate, the Atlanteans sent out ships to carry their masters who were responsible for bringing civilization and culture to primitive humans. “Way down below the ocean where I wanna be, she may be”. Donovan seeks his love in the deepness of the ocean, which may be interpreted literally (she is in Atlantis) and symbolically also (she is unattainable or it takes a lot of effort to reach her).
Donovan is still active, even though he does not really fit into today’s popular culture. But this does not necessarily mean bad. Thank you for discovering this colorful artist with us. This is only the beginning of our series about the greatest performers in the music industry. Amongst them you can also find David Bowie, Lenny Kravitz, Prince, Bob Marley and Nick Cave. Stay tuned!