I don’t really tend to identify Warren with upbeat, optimistic, feel-good songs. Nevertheless, “Mohammed’s Radio” feels like it belongs in this category. The optimism is largely in the infectious chorus, with the verses detailing the quiet desperation of most people’s lives. The chorus however, seems to celebrate the capacity of music to reach across borders and differances in race, culture, and religion, and into the heart and mind of the listener. It can be transformative, although it does seem to be less so these days than it used to be (and yes, I realize how old that makes me sound). At least in Warren’s song, Mohammed’s Radio would seem to be a rock and roll station rather than a religious one which seems appropriate, simply because it seems like music has a much better shot at bringing people together than formal religious doctrines. Not that I would say that it is an anti-religious song, but simply that its focus falls upon the power of music to create community, even a temporary one, which is perhaps the most we can ask for these days.
Derroll Adams was a noted American banjo player, folksinger, and songwriter. When Donovan was in St. Albans in 1964, he would go down to London to see Derroll Adams or Bert Jansch performing in clubs around London. Derroll’s expatriate home base was in Antwerp, in Belgium. For Donovan, he was “a direct link to the American Folk– Revivial–he had known Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie.” In Donovan’s autobiography, The Hurdy Gurdy Man, he goes opn to say,
I wanted to know Derroll, and when we met we liked each other fine. In fact we bacame friends. I learned so much from Derroll even though he played banjo and I guitar. I would sit cross-legged on hotel carpets or in the tiled bathrooms (for the echo) and watch the master. He played in a delicate ‘frailing’ fashion, brushing the strings very gently and singing soothingly in his low sonorous voice. He touched each string with such tenderness, then seemed to pause to marvel at the sound that his banjo produced. I fell into altered states, following the one note fading. I was being taught by a master, instructed with no instruction. Awakened to the knowledge with no awakening. Amazed by his own plucking of one string, he would stop, turn to me, and say, ‘Donny . . . will ya listen to that, isn’t it beautiful?’ And it was. (61)
Here is a brief clip (all I could find) of Donovan playing with the Master:
“Epistle to Derroll” is from Donovan’s A Gift from a Flower to a Garden album, where it is the final cut. A lovely song about “The Banjoman,” it is filled with oceanic and cosmic imagery, as we go from the world of the starfish, to the silica on the beach (from which mirrors can be made), to the stars in the heavens. The song becomes a very clever commentary on the responsibilities and vagueries of fame, while at the same time a deeply affectionate tribute to Derroll and the musical tradition, skill, and kind-graciousness he was so well known for. This is rather different that anything I’ve done before, but I’m rather pleased with it. I hope you are too.
Well, I’m back from my trip and–like many people–I came back with photos and videos. Faced with the dilemma of what to do with them and feeling the need to put together another Rufus slideshow, I decided to make a virtue of necessity and expose my talents as a photographer and filmmaker to the world. I’ve long been interested in doing one on “Oh What a World” from his Want One album. I actually conceived it as my second Rufus slideshow, after “Tiergarten” last summer. I think I originally thought of it as a New York song because of the repeated references to The New York Times. Made about six months later, this slideshow emphasizes the “world” in the title, although the visuals are almost all from the western hemisphere. Anyway, I now see it more as a song about aging, generational change, and the hectic pace and surreal nature of modern life. There is a faint ecological message, but it’s pretty muted and pretty easy to miss.
Just a warning, Rufus does appear in the slideshow, but almost entirely in the third and last section. When you get to the second section, after the train clip, DON”T PANIC–that odd bearded guy is actually me (I doubt Rufus will ever let himself go to that degree). The video clips of animals, Antartica, and Chile are all mine, as are the photographs of Argentina, Antartica, and Chile. There are also a couple of photographs of Havana, and of the Bridge to Nowhere in the Guthrie Theatre, as well as Symphony Hall in Minneapolis where I saw Rufus last December.The parents in the second section are mine, and the baby is actually my sister (on the grounds that most Caucasian babies more or less look like Winston Churchill). The transportation clips are mostly purchased from Videohive. I actually like it, with the song’s swaying rhythms rather nicely complementing the animal movements and even making my unsteady camerawork look like it might be deliberate. Hope you enjoy.
I should warn people in advance that this is not a funny slideshow, or even a romantic one, but rather Warren as social critic or–as I like to think of it–prophet. Not that I would argue that he was chosen by God to deliver the Word, but rather that Warren seems to have had such a keen understanding of the human character and its failings (and possibly he specialized in the American character), that he was able to see what was coming long before it had fully manifested itself. Surely “Fistful of Rain” is a song about our long and frutiless struggle to hold onto, even freeze the past in a particular idealized moment. As Jay Gatz tragically discovered (let’s see who picks up on that allusion), you can’t recreate the past, which is colored by emotions and memories, and probably never happened exactly as we now think it did. The yearning for it, nevertheless, is terribly powerful, sometimes to the point of seemingly obliterating any rational thought. .Certainly, that’s one way to explain why we are here now . . . where we are. Because of what Warren saw happening then (and perhaps foresaw happening even more in the future), trying ever so hard to do something ever so impossible, like holding onto to a fistful of rain.
“Sunshine” is an intriguingly complex song from Barenaked Ladies new Fake Nudes album about how the things we love can actually be harmful to us. While it has an obvious application to drugs and alchohol, I wonder if it couldn’t be said to be true about a lot of aspects of modern consumer culture. and even about individual human personalities (not everybody, perhaps, but possibly more than you might at first think). The slideshow probably makes the song a bit more about global issues than it actually is, although the larger application just seemed so glaringly obvious I couldn’t stop myself. I’m visiting Antartica (as well as Argentina and Chile), and all the evidence I’ve seen so far (both here and in many other parts of the world) suggests that global warming is real, not that any of my non-scientific observations are likely convince anyone, especially when the observations made by real scientists continue to fall on deaf ears. I made the slideshow before I left, and the polar bear pictures are from the North Pole, not Antarctica, obviously. Anyway, I hope you like the song and its accompanying slideshow, both of which seem almost painfully true, at least to me, if not to you.
I thought I would start the new year off with this track, a mid-seventies celebration of the joys of live music in general, and music festivals in particular from his Cosmic Wheels album. This seems appropriate in that I am hoping to attend more live music next year, and possibly even perform it once or twice, in addition to singing in the local UU Fellowship choir. This isn’t as irrelevant as it might sound in that I have actually never seen Donovan in concert (I’ve really only gotten back into his music during the last sixth months), and I am planning a brief visit to northwest Germany with the express intention of going to see a couple of his “Song of the Sea” concerts he’ll be doing in the first half of March. With luck, I’ll actually get to meet him in Bochun on March 3rd (I’m hoping for a photo with him I can post on the lower left corner of my website–the big photo will stay the same). Then I’ll be meeting a Facebook friend (we’re both big Phil Ochs fans) for dinner and go together to his concert March 5th in Hamburg. It’s not an area I know well (I’ve been to Cologne and Frankfurt airport, but that’s about it). I am hoping to shoot a lot of photographs and bits of footage which I think I’ll probably be able to use for short films and slideshows. I also hope to film a couple of songs, if that is allowed (it seems to usually be OK in the States as long as you aren’t using a professional quality camera, but this is Germany, and I’m sure I’ll be on my best behavior, especially since I suspect the US’s reputation is not especially high right now). If I can and they turn out, I’ll post them here. I apologize for an introduction that is really about me than Donovan, but I think the song is a pretty self-explanatory celebration of live music.
“Wine with Dinner,” as the title implies, is a drinking song. Back when I first heard it about 1976, it strucks me as a pro-drinking song, a defiant love letter to grain alcohol in the face physical, social, and psychological bad consequences. I suspect I saw it that way, because that is the way I wanted to see it, I wanted to believe drinking-to-excess was simply a heroically masculine way of thumbing your nose at death, while counting on that old saw about God loving drunks and fools to keep me safe (I’m sure I figured I was a Daily Double). How you interpreted the song really depended on whether you focused on the verses (which catalogue the negative consequences of alcohol abuse) or on the chorus (which focuses on how drunks are often quite lucky). While the alcoholic speaker is fairly obviously kidding himself, his arguments are pretty convincing if you’re kidding yourself too. Although it isn’t included as part of this slideshow, Loudon’s T-Shirt album, where the song first appeared, also includes a reprise of the song at the album’s conclusion that includes an additional verse that rejects other forms of pharmacological abuse in favor John Barleycorn and his relatives, so the let’s-just-keep-on-partying message does get a bit more emphasis in the original context (it was the seventies, after all). I now see the song as more darkly satirical than celebratory, and that darkness is by and large refected in this slideshow (I don’t claim my interpretation is any way definitive, please make your own, if you so desire).