Donovan’s “Epistle to Derroll”: An Unofficial Slideshow

Donovan’s “Epistle to Derroll”: An Unofficial Slideshow

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.

Donovan’s “Turquoise”: An Unofficial Slideshow

Donovan’s “Turquoise”: An Unofficial Slideshow

This is Donovan in romantic folkie mode, with some nice Dylanesque harmonica, in a song from “Fairy Tale.” It’s a lovely love song with some faint echoes of “Catch the Wind.” With no real justification, I made the slideshow about two things: Donovan’s relationship and eventual marriage to Linda Lawrence, and the color of the title (always implied but never mentioned in the lyrics). I’m not totally sure what they have in common other than that they are both beautiful. But maybe that’s enough. Maybe that’s the point. Hope you like it:

Donovan’s “The Music Maker” (An Unofficial Slideshow)

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.

Donovan’s “Poorman’s Sunshine”: An Unofficial Slideshow

Donovan’s “Poorman’s Sunshine”: An Unofficial Slideshow

“Poorman’s Sunshine” is a track from Donovan’s Beat Cafe album (2004). A very intriguing album that revisits Donovan’s  early experiences with beat culture, this is a standout track, with some terrific upright bass playing and some simple yet fascinating lyrics, delivered with conviction by the Glaswegian bard. The slideshow was great fun to do, with the last section kind of deliberately recalling the Atlantis/1983 slideshow/video from a couple of months ago. Certainly part of the meaning of the song is that music can be a “poorman’s sunshine,” although I sort of expanded the meaning to suggest that sunshine–or happiness-exists wherever you find it, which is probably true for everyone, but it is probably more true for those living on the margins. Anyway, I hope you like it (I’m really quite proud of myself for this one), but even if you don’t, just close your eyes and groove on this fantastic, little-heard song.

Two Donovan Slideshows about Children’s Rhymes

Two Donovan Slideshows about Children’s Rhymes

I always loved Lewis Carroll’s books, and my family had a couple of beautiful illustrated versions of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass back when I was growing up. By the time I got through with them, I’m afraid, they looked considerably worse for wear. “Jabberwocky” has also become somewhat famous as an example of Victorian nonsense verse, which is actually a whole minor genre. The poem remains a wonderful example of the form, with a coherent story of coming of boy’s coming of age by means of the slaying of a mysterious yet horrible monster. Every boy needs to be called a “beamish boy” at least once in their lives. This is from Donovan’s HMS Donovan album, which is largely nursery rhymes and children’s poems set to music. The simple guitar pattern and swirling organ arrangement establish an air of mystery, while Donovan’s rather solemn delivery suggests what an earnest business this is for our unnamed hero. Hope you like it (to some extent, this slideshow was an excuse for me to explore Victorian book illustration).

This is the second of two slideshows inspired and accompanied by Donovan’s versions of nursery rhymes and children’s poems from his 1971 HMS Donovan album. I always rather liked this bedtime poem, in part because it was about getting to one of my favorite places: sleep. Donovan does set it to a a lovely melody, and it actually achieves a surprising narrative drivel. You’ll notice a number of illustrations by Maxfield Parrish (very noted in the 1920s), as well as more recent illustrations from children’s books, which I have intercut with photographs of fishing and fish, trying to suggest both the world of art and the art of the world. Hope you like it.

Donovan: Two Evocations of Place

Donovan: Two Evocations of Place

I sort of came back from Cuba with an embarressment of riches, but they are mostly performance clips of Rufus Wainwright (I got a good deal of practice filming, which I sorely needed), but they really belong on my Unofficial: Rufus Wainwright page rather than here, so I thought I would post these two Donovan slideshows from early September.

Looking at it now from the perspective of a few weeks,  I think this slideshow sort achieves what it set out to do. “The River Song” is a rather haunting, gentle, meditative song from the Hurdy Gurdy Man album, that showcases Donovan’s intriguing finger picking style (possibly learned Maybelle Carter of the Carter family). This audio recording, which I downloaded from YouTube, sounds as if it was recorded from a vinyl album in that you can hear the pops and hisses that indicate a much played vinyl record (for those of you who remember vinyl albums). Although I have a digital download (yes, I paid for it, and it’s really quite good), nevertheless I kind of like this version–it has a lived in feel (sort of like nature). I was going for a kind of Thoreauvian idyl, immersed in a sharply observed nature while at the same time suggesting an interior journey, sort of like Marvell’s “green thought in a green shade” from his poem “The Garden.” I actually did two edits of this: the one here and another one with a video excerpt from Ryan Larkin’s “Syrinx.” It’s actually still up on my YouTube page if you are curious (it says “Larkin edit” in the title), but ultimately I found the shift to Larkin’s animation a little jarring, which is just what you don’t want in a project like this.  “The River Song” video/slideshow was made with Final Cut Pro, by the way, which I’ve just started using (I think this was my second project with it). I’m still learning it, but that’s where all the fancy overlays come from.

This second slideshow is another evocation of place, this time urban, of Goodge Street in London. I’m pretty sure I’ve been there (and I’ve certainly been in the Tube station), but I don’t have any particularily sharp memories of it (there’s a lot to see in London). Oddly enough, in spite of the daytime focus of the title when I listen to the song I also hear foreshadowings of evening (e.g. the smearing of colors), and again it seems to be describing in it such a way that I wonder whether the light or darkness he describes is exterior to the poet/singer, or interior. Quite a number of the pictures are from Goodge street (I didn’t really try to achieve any unity of time, but a few people will notice Marianne Faithfull), although some evoke, I think, a more generalized London nighttime. Hope you enjoy it as much as people seem to have liked “The River Song.”

Donovan’s “Lalena”: A unofficial slideshow about prostitutes

Donovan’s “Lalena”: A unofficial slideshow about prostitutes

[Cross-posted on my Donovan–Slideshows by passage2trth page] Donovan’s “Lalena” was a song I always admired without ever really thinking about it very much.  Certainly, the song’s most striking feature was Donovan’s rather lovely vibrato and its melancholy mood, a mood I realize I have always found attractive.  While of course I knew that it was about a girl with an unusual name who seemed rather sad, I never really thought about the implications of the lyrics until quite recently, when I was looking for a followup to “Universal Soldier.” Once I did pause to think about who the lyrics were describing, it seemed rather obvious she was a prostitute, getting up “when the sun goes to bed,” one whose “lot in life” makes the song’s narrator sad even as he refuses to blame her for her situation, presumably because it is beyond her control. While by no means the only song ever written about what is frequently characterized as the world’s oldest profession (cf. “Love for Sale, “Sweet Georgia Brown,” “Roxanne,” among many others), it is sort of surprising that “Lalena” was an AM hit in the sixties reaching number #33 on the Hot 100 in Billboard.  Of course, so was The Animals version of “The House of the Rising Sun.” In fact, Donovan was apparently inspired to write the song by Lotte Lenya‘s character of Jenny (a streetwalker) in the 1931 film version of Berthold Brecht and Kurt Weil’s The Threepenny Opera. Donovan seems to have added an extra syllable to her surname in order to make the haunting chorus work musically, while the “lot in life” line is quite probably a gentle play the actress’s first name.

Having decided to make the slideshow into a mini-history of prostitution, and wanting to be true to the song in both being not too graphic and rather melancholy, I chose to use Final Cut Pro (only the second time I’ve done so, and I’m still learning how) to do a series of overlays, often drawn from impressionist, post-impressionist, and modernist art (with a few photographs) in order to convey the song’s–and the woman’s–sadness at her situation. It may be a bit too busy, but I think it generally works in the way it gets across a deep underlying melancholy that is central to the song’s appeal. The audio, by the way is not the single version, but a version Donovan performed for Italian public television in 1968.