Here is Donovan with an educational history lesson, which, if you don’t live in Texas, you may be needing. Living in Texas for nearly a decade, I really should know more about this Alamo thing that we have. Apparently it was a very epic historical event that Texans really have a hard-on about remembering. Something about taking Mexico away from the Mexicans so Texan-Americans can be free? Honestly, the more I live here the more I don’t give a shit. However, the Battle of the Alamo has retained a strong mystique in the public imagination. It has an undeniable storytelling appeal, and who doesn’t love a tale of desperate courage in the face of inevitable defeat? It’s inspired its better-than-fair share of songs, and books, and movies, and stage names, and dumb-looking hats etc. All of which vary wildly in their degree of truthiness. But history is not about what happened, it’s about teaching a good lesson, and telling a rip-roaring good story. So we keep telling the story about those brave good old boys defending their miserable garrison in the name of Freedom™ as an example of the good old American can-do spirit, even though the broader context may be a little bit hazy. Texas wasn’t even a member of the United States at the time, and lemme tell you, Texans are inordinately proud of their short-live little republic, even though or maybe because half of it was requisitioned from Mexico at the cost of great bloodletting. I’m frankly a little confused as to why Texians defending their right to be a sovereign republic that is not a part of the United States of America is such a beloved example of American patriotism, but the complexities of history bore me, and the concept of patriotism is a very difficult one for me to grasp, and it seems like all it comes down to is that the tale is a fun one to tell.
This is really adorable. I think I like Donovan more now because he physically reminds me of someone. It’s the way he sets his jaw. It’s cute. But, weird and misplaced love pangs aside, I’ve always loved this song and its spirit of naive wonder. That’s such a treacly emotion, in general, if it’s not done right. Treacle pudding, anyone, ever? Nobody likes treacle pudding. It’s tough enough to find the mindspace to sit back and sigh and say “ohh, gosh!” To convey that mindspace and enhance it through music, oh gosh, that’s magical. Donovan just makes being dippy the most appealing state in the world, and I forget that I generally don’t like dippy people and feel maybe a tiny bit dippy myself. I haven’t felt dippy at all lately, to be honest, but this reminds me of what it can sometimes feel like.
Possibly yellow, but not very mellow, Donovan takes a detour into cafe jazz. And he could’ve stayed there quite nicely. Mellow Yellow, the album, is not what the title suggests. It’s a bit bleak, in fact. Ruminative, existential, and infected with jazz piano. (Because nothing says emo like jazz piano.) Not the goofy, twee Donovan we’ve generally come to know and love. Like a lot of rock stars, Donovan went through a period of post success disillusionment, questioning what the heck is the point of even being a rock star if it’s not all the fun it’s cracked up to be. So, like many of his peers, he made an album about the downside of the cool life. If it doesn’t sound like Donovan to see the downside to anything, well, he snapped back to his psychedelic fairy tales soon enough. His next album was the magnum opus A Gift From a Flower to a Garden, which is exactly as starry eyed and full of talking starfish as the name implies. I love it, because nobody bridged the gap between the innocence of the nursery rhyme and the adult world of rock and roll with the grace and sincerity of Donovan. But I know that songs about flowers and baby animals are not for everybody. For those people, Mellow Yellow is the Donovan album I would recommend, being wholly adult and steeped in the reality of the cold morning after.
To me, Donovan is the essence of teatime music (I believe I’ve already explained the concept.) I also think he made some of the finest psychedelic music, though perhaps I’m unduly swayed by his charming Scottish accent. Grandiosity was a big problem in the psychedelic scene. Donovan doesn’t sound like he’s trying so hard to blow everyone’s minds. He’s just tripped out, in a laid back, not trying to prove anything way.Sometimes modesty can be its own brilliance.
They call what mellow yellow? Is this some kind of a drug reference? Say it ain’t so. There’s nothing like a silly tune that gets over scrutinized. This song is fantastic all on its own and it doesn’t have much meaning, nor does it need to. There’s no point in debating if the title is a James Joyce reference or the name of some especially fine strain of weed, or just nonsense. The whole ‘electrical banana’ debate is ridiculous too. If bananas could in any way, shape, or form cause intoxication, we would all know about it, because humans have already figured out how to intoxicate themselves with anything they could get their hands on, and bananas are not one of those things. So stop trying to smoke dried banana peels and go purchase yourself a nice vibrator, because that’s the real message.
I’m holding my breath for the moment Donovan comes back into vogue. I’ve always thought that Donovan was one of the greatest products of his time. His popularity was very much a product of the “Summer of Love” aesthetic that swept the mid- to late sixties; psychedelia, fantasy, a love of nature and children’s books, idealism, spirituality, and a sincere optimist belief that love would make everything in the world all better. A lot of people in those days combined those elements, and Donovan did it better than just about anybody. But as the culture changed and edgier pop icons strutted into view, Donovan’s popularity faded. Being a hippie was who he was, and he wasn’t going to put on platform boots and go glam to stay relevant. (Even Bob Dylan globbed on the eyeliner in the 70’s.) It’s been a long few decades since pop culture cared about Donovan, let alone took him seriously. But it looks like there may be a revival for him yet. If Fake New Wave can be a big thing, why not Neo-Psychedelic Folk? Groups like Foxygen are using the Summer of Love as a starting point and finding success with it. Though I doubt that the idealism of the period will ever be revived, the musical curiosity, eclecticism, and will to follow wherever the brain-waves take you, just might.
First of all, Donovan’s Scottish accent is adorable. So is his total hippieness. What a flower child! And, it goes without saying, there’s nothing more appealing to me than a song about cute animals. So this song really hits all the charm points, if you find those sort of things charming. The fact that it’s supposed to be a children’s song is also charming. Or, you shake your head and say “Only in the 60’s…”