Monday, December 05, 2005

Stranger Still

It was always easy to typecast Donovan as the essence of the Summer Of Love, the mystic mellow-yellow hippie with flowers coming out of his caftan, a relic from an era of love and togetherness.

But this never gave him enough credit, not only for his own individual style, but the way that he absorbed folk, jazz, and rock and turned those influences into a unique brew that has never lost its appeal.

This was all reinforced last Friday night as I caught his 40th Anniversary Hurdy Gurdy Tour. Largely motivated by the need to back up the recent release of both a box set and a book, it featured an eclectic selection of songs, many of which came from those 70’s albums that I played once and filed away. Yes, I was a stalwart fan, but my enthusiasm gradually disappeared as album after album seemed to leave me unsatisfied. But I never lost my love of his classic albums, many of which have been recently re-released with the usual bumper crop of extra and alternative tracks.

This wasn’t the sensitive troubadour of black light poster fame – right out of the box, he and his electric band bashed out Hurdy Gurdy Man and Barabajagal, with the lead guitarist playing the original solos note for note. God, they sounded good.

Even the 70’s stuff sounded good, fresher for my having ignored them for so long, including the title tracks from Slow Down World and Cosmic Wheels. The early years were represented by Catch The Wind, Universal Soldier, and Colours, all still timeless and lovely.

It was all wonderful stuff, every song you’d want to hear one right after the other, Lalena, Young Girl Blues, Epistle To Dippy, Sunshine Superman, Wear Your Love Like Heaven and Atlantis. But the song that made the night for me was one I always forget about when I’m considering Donovan: Season Of The Witch.

The moment they started to play it, it sounded like one of the best songs ever written. Everything about it seemed so completely fresh and classic at the same time, from the teasing riff that anchored it to the mystery and languor of its lyric:

It’s strange
So strange

You’ve got to pick up every stitch
You’ve got to pick up every stitch
Beatniks are out to make it rich
Oh no

You wanted it to go on for hours.

The next night, the wife and I attended a 50th Birthday party for a very close friend of ours. The friend, a gynecologist, rented out a room at a downtown bar and festooned the tables with condoms and plastic speculums. During the course of the evening, various friends of the guest of honor, most of them old enough to remember when Donovan was in the charts, made speeches and it was a very warm and pleasant evening.

It did make me wonder a bit if I should have been a little more celebratory about my own 50th. I know a few people who saw their 50th in with large events, invited lots of friends, and generally made a big deal about it.

The more I thought about it, though, I realized I preferred spending it the way I did, in a more solitary fashion. If I had thrown a party, I think it would have been more for the invitees than for me. I’m not really a party guy. I don’t dance much anymore and I like to watch people do things more than do them. I’m awkward with hugs. I don’t wear my love like heaven.

Sure, there are better ways to live. I envy those who can open themselves up and make their lives a freer, more approachable place to be. That’s a healthier way to be, I think. But for now, I feel better sailing paper airplanes out of my cave and pulling the covers up to my chin.

The next morning brought a lesson in the kindness of strangers, though. It was a Surprise Birthday Brunch for my Dad, who’s still recovering from some medical difficulties. The fact that it had snowed the previous night probably made him think his companion was crazy when she suggested they go out to eat, and she no doubt had to spill the beans to get him there, but it was still all of us together.

We caught up on the latest family news, a rare commodity ever since I became nominally estranged from most of my siblings, including the word that the one nephew is now doing a college radio show (that talent runs in the family, apparently). The niece with too much gothy eyeliner, who calls me “Uncle Pudd’nhead,” was there, as well as the tiny one whose little set of Christmas antlers made her look like Cindy Lou Who.

More than once, though, people we didn’t know who saw us awkwardly trying to fit The Family Screwloose into various photos offered to snap the desired shots with the 5 or 6 hungry cameras arrayed on the table.

It was oddly moving, in a way, these strangers jumping into the breach. Maybe people aren’t so awful. Maybe I could let a few of them into the cave, after all.

I’m working on it.

In the meantime, if you’d like to see how I did spend my 50th…


Anonymous Uncle Cleetus said...

Donovan Rules...quite rightly! I loved the production values on those old recordings. Psychedelic Folk Rock! And how about those wild Jimmy Page guitar licks on Hurdy Gurdy Man. Season of the Witch- that hypnotic lick of A -D7 over and over. Amazing stuff! Makes me want to do a bong hit (ooops-was that out loud?)

Here's some trivia for ya...Did you know that Donovan Leitch did back up vocals on Alice Cooper's "Billion Dollar Babies"?

Thursday, December 08, 2005 11:15:00 PM  
Blogger Count Screwloose said...

According to my Marc Bolan discography, Don, Marc, Keith Moon and Harry Nilsson were at these sessions, among others.

Here's the best part, though:

"Marc and Alice teamed up to warble songs from the Broadway show Pal Joey, but these songs and many others...were not considered suitable..."

There's a great lost LP for ya, huh? "Bewiiiiitched, Booootherrred and Bewiiiillderrred...."

Much more info in the April 1973 issue of Circus, it says here. I bet you've got that lying around the house.


Tuesday, December 13, 2005 1:39:00 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home