This should lift your spirits. Donovan hasn’t been on-trend since his heyday, what with gloom and doom being the prevailing mood, but sometimes there’s a need for something cheerful. The optimism and playfulness of 60’s psychedelic folk music hasn’t been recreated. Artists like Donovan, Tyrannosaurus Rex, and early Pink Floyd leaned heavily on folklore, fantasy and children’s literature – things that are just too pure for our cynical world, I guess. It took a truly unique cultural moment to make those things edgy with the in-crowd. No wonder we still gaze back on the 1960’s with awed fascination; every decade since then has just been the same banquet of depravity, sex and anger. Anyway, I hope you’re feeling cheered up.
Donovan always takes me back to a childlike place. That sense of innocence and wonderment was of course the intention; Donovan recorded a double album with one side for adults and one side for children, though both sides sound the same. And, when one and everyone around one are zoinked to high heaven on LSD and Mary Jane, the world seems full of magic and the mind reverts to younger days. While I, as an actual child, did respond to all of those effects and decided that all of Donovan’s music was very much for children. (The sexual references went over my head.) So with all that said, this is a trip down memory lane for me.
If any hit song has undeservedly and inexplicably been bludgeoned into pop culture oblivion by excessive overplay, it’s this one. Is it because it’s catchy and very slightly ominous, or just because witches are very trending right now? Nothing ruins a cool tune like hearing it repeatedly shoehorned into some shitty piece of entertainment completely removed from its original meaning and context. It’s at the point where being made into an entire full length Nicolas Cage movie is not even the greatest indignity. Donovan, of course, must be earning enough royalties to purchase the Scottish highlands in their entirety, and no one could possibly begrudge him that, but when your song is being featured in a live-action adaptation of an Archie comic, I don’t know, maybe stop and think back to 1966 and how much you presumably cared about not appearing to be a greedy corporate sellout.
I want to disappear into a dark tropical lagoon now, because Donovan has done more for my imagination than any number of cruise lines or fancy resorts with their advertising. Maybe he should strike a deal with the national tourism board of Mexico. I don’t condone selling out like that, but there’s nothing like a good tune to make me want things I didn’t think I wanted. I’ve never even been anywhere tropical but I can feel it. I want rolling waves and luminescent beaches and – it’s not expressly in the song but you know it’s implied – psychedelic drugs. Okay, when it comes down to it, I mostly want the psychedelic drugs. I want everything to be luminescent and full of magic.
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.