“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.
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.
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.”
[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.
Honestly, I barely remember hearing “Universal Soldier” while growing up in Bakersfield. The local AM radio station (“K-A-F-Y Bak-ers-feild”) played some of his other hits, like “Sunshine Superman” and “Jennifer Juniper,” but they probably felt this song was too controversial, or perhaps simply not pop enough. Hearing it again “Universal Soldier” (authored by Buffy Sainte-Marie) seems more relevant than ever, although at the same time less likely than ever to effect any real change. That may be simply illusion, however, created by the nostalgia one so often feels for one’s youth. I have to admit, in creating this slideshow I wasn’t entirely sure what approach to take, especially as there are already a couple of pretty good slideshows that take their inspiration from it on YouTube. Originally, I had thought of focusing on the victims of war, but then I got this idea which seemed more–to coin an adjective–Donovanesque. I like to think he’d approve of it, if he ever sees it. In any event, I hope you approve, or at least listen.
This is kind of an extended sequel to my “Epistle to Dippy” diary and slideshow, and you’ll notice a few of the same photos (most obviously those of the Maharishi, Donovan, and The Beatles, but also of Donovan and Hendrix). My original thought was to make a slideshow that at least aspired to be a kind of pure aesthetic experience, a series of beautiful images set to Donovan’s incredibly catchy chorus and Hendrix’s brilliant guitar riffs, all framed by a rather vague Atlantis narrative (which I have never the taken that seriously, except as a kind of fable in Plato’s Timaeus). I think it ended up being rather more than that–almost the audio-visual equivalent of a metaphysical poem, although there are some fairly clear themes (the trascendence of art, the desire for escape from the horrors of the world, and of course transformation) running through it. The very conscious way it interweaves what we might call the oceanic and the cosmic is my attempt (I hope partly successful) to bring some very disparate things in relation to one another and at least point towards (although not really explain) some kind of ultimate meaning (I’m sort of playing with Boethian and neoPlatonic ideas, but not in any kind of rigorous way). However, if you just want to appreciate it as a kind of trippy music video, that’s okay too, and that really was pretty close to my original intention anyway.
The Donovan audio track is from what must be the introduction to The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. The track cuts out rather abruptly because a voice over comes in telling you who is going to be on the show that night (if you listen carefully, you can just hear the announcer say the beginning of Mort Sahl’s name, who obviously got top billing that night). Frankly, I like this version better than the original single, which I always thought was a bit overproduced. I find the simplicity and clarity of this version remarkably moving. I’m not sure if I have a good reason for using The Allman Brothers version of “1983,” other than that I really liked it (what it lacks in smoothness, it makes up for with a kind of crunchy power), and that I was a little leery of getting involved in the kind of copyright problems that have long plagued the legally entangled Hendrix estate (they may have been resolved now, I didn’t really continue pursuing it after stumbling upon The Allman’s version). A few people (not that I expect that many to see it), will notice I’m trying some new things here: Formal titles at the beginning and end, with introductory and concluding sound effects, and even scrolling credits, as well as two video excerpts, one oceanic and one cosmic (the first from an Oceanic Preservation Society video, the second from Yavar Abbas’s Journey to the Edge of the Universe ).
I was just rewatching the Sunshine Superman DVD about Donvan’s life last weekend, and found it fascinating–among the many things I had forgotten about him was all the time he spent with the Beatles in India, becoming part of the group that surrounded Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. I had been wanting to make a slideshow about “Epistle to Dippy,” a song I really liked when I was about ten (I may not have been too sure what an epistle was, but I knew I liked the song), but couldn’t quite decide what approach to take to this rather oblique song. Suddenly the young monk meditating amid misty mountains made perfect sense, and I basically treated the “you” the song addresses as in fact Donovan himself as he is introduced to these new, “all kinds of windows,” perspectives on life. I have read, by the way, that the song was actually written to a friend who had joined the military. That may well be true (although its certainly isn’t obvious), the interpretation I offer here (which is really is intended to be evocative rather than prescriptive), I don’t pretend to any genuine knowledge of what Donovan really “meant” by the song. It’s still a great song, whatever you think of therse video, although of course I hope you enjoy both.
Quick note: this is actually an alternative take I found on YouTube rather than the single version. Although done in a much more baroque style than the hit single, it has a wonderful swirling energy that I like as much as the more popular version.