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:

Rufus Wainwright’s “Oh What a World”: An Unofficial Slideshow (I’m actually in this one)

Rufus Wainwright’s “Oh What a World”: An Unofficial Slideshow (I’m actually in this one)

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.

Warren Zevon’s “Fistful of Rain”: An Unofficial Slideshow

Warren Zevon’s “Fistful of Rain”: An Unofficial Slideshow

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”: An Unofficial BNL Slideshow

“Sunshine”: An Unofficial BNL Slideshow

“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.

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.

Warren Zevon’s “Empty Handed Heart”: An Unofficial Slideshow

Warren Zevon’s “Empty Handed Heart”: An Unofficial Slideshow

While this is an odd way to begin a year, it feels appropriate for what could be described as a beginning. More a look back at the failures of the past than the successes of the future, “Empty Handed Heart” is a song from Warren Zwvon’s Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School album. A marvelously self-aware love song about those bad choices a lot of people make (sometimes even us). It seems to at least hold out the possibility of a second chance, even a happy ending, while acknowledging that those are pretty rare. As a few people will notice, I sort of made it with Warren’s and Crystal’s story in the back of my mind, which sort of allowed me to emphasize the happy ending aspect, albeit a somewhat qualified one. I still find it a remarkably moving song, partly because I suspect it’s right. I believe that is Linda Rondstadt singing second descant in the last part, sounding near the peak of her powers. Hope you like it.