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- Posted on May 16th 2012 1:00PM by David Chiu
Jeff Kravitz, FilmMagic
Donovan, who turned 66 on May 10, says that he has been inspired him to perform live again, which he'll be doing this summer and in the fall. During a visit to New York, he spoke to Spinner about being inducted into the Rock Hall, the new anthology set, the early days with Bob Dylan, his friendship with the Beatles, and his involvement with the David Lynch Foundation, which promotes Transcendental Meditation.
Congratulations on your recent induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. How does it feel to finally get in?
Awards have been coming as the work gains in weight and critical acclaim and historical meaning. But this one is the largest, it's more like an Academy Award because so few are awarded every year and it's by our peers. This, for me, is important because from the very early day of committing myself to being a voice for a generation -- and I did intend that -- because I came from the tradition of folk music, introducing ideas from Bohemia and what we called the underground ideas that I felt were needed by the millions of young people in the world to save this planet from absolute destruction, deterioration, pollution and poison from a modern age.
You were once dubbed the "new Dylan" and you were featured in the documentary "Don't Look Back." Did it bother you that you were being likened to him in the media?
At first when it came out, the immediate thing was they didn't realize that both he and I came from the [Woody] Guthrie tradition. I felt yeah, the comparison is probably OK because both of us were bringing poetry back to popular culture. That's what I realized later. At the time it was rather daunting. Bobby played with it in concert during that May tour of 1965 and later regretted playing with it because he realized that there was a huge faction out there that was taking sides; one was "Are you for Dylan?" "Are you for Donovan?" There was a kind of thing like that going on in the press. He didn't want to encourage it all and he said so. He said, "I was only making a joke. He doesn't play like me, he plays like [Ramblin'] Jack Elliott." But there was an obvious connection. Over the years it's settled down a bit, but people do talk to me about that early day and now I see it in a much more positive light.
We had quiet times off the camera. Then one night, after that extraordinary three-week period in London, it was Bobby who introduced me to the Beatles. After then, the Beatles and I became fast friends. We shared many common interests leading to meditation, leading to breaking all the rules in the recording studio and all that. So the comparison of Donovan to Dylan was sort of superficial on the outside, but within a period of months all that changed. Bobby would truly absorb his rhythm and blues roots and take off, and I would truly absorb my jazz, blues and world music and poetic leanings. We both make our own music very different from each other from then on.
It seems fitting that your Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, as well as the release of The Essential Donovan, comes on the 45 anniversary of the Summer of Love this year.
Historically you couldn't see this until later. But when I was nominated two years ago by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, [the] press release was, "Donovan virtually single-handedly initiated the psychedelic revolution with Sunshine Superman." Journalists are looking at this and saying, "Wait a minute -- historically the Sunshine Superman album is the first because it's one year before [the Beatles'] Sgt. Pepper and at least nine months before [Jefferson Airplane's] Surrealistic Pillow. How did we miss it?" And they asked me, "Did you know at the time that you were opening this door to this alternative lifestyle world?" I said, "No, at the time I was chronicling my own life, this was what I was living." But it just so happens that Sunshine Superman has within it all the elements that would encourage and support the Beatles to do Pepper.
Speaking of the Beatles, you had a hand in the songwriting of "Yellow Submarine." How did that happen?
It was early summer [in 1966] and the doorbell rang. It was Paul and he already had his guitar on his shoulders playing it walking upstairs to the apartment. He knocked on the door and said, "What are you doing?" I said, "Writing songs, what are you doing?" "I'm writing songs too." I said, "Come in." I was sitting on the floor and had a little Uher tape recorder and a little short Sennheiser mike on a little tripod, and I was writing songs and recording them. He sat down and I said, "OK, what do you got?" He said, "Well, I got this," and he sang this: "Ola Na Tunjee/Blowing his mind in the dark with a pipe full of clay..." That "Ola Na Tunjee" we know would later be "Eleanor Rigby."
And then he said, "I've got this" and he started singing "Yellow Submarine."" At one point he stopped and said, "But I don't have any words for this bit." I said, "Give me a moment." I went into the bedroom and came back with "Sky of blue, sea of green/In our yellow submarine." He said, "That'll do." It was nothing earth-shattering, it wasn't a new piece of poetry that was going to change the world. All I put in was "sky of blue." But I felt very proud after that and then he asked me what I was writing and I gave him stuff that I was doing. That's how it was then. It was a time to share, there was enough time to share.
There's a recent compilation album put out by the David Lynch Foundation called Download for Good: Music That Changes the World -- the proceeds from the sales go to the foundation for educational programs that involve meditation. You have a song on there called "Listen." How did you get involved with that?
When the Beatles and I were introducing these ideas to our songs, we had started a little before because we were reading the books before India. But when we went to India, it was clear -- we would introduce these ideas in songs more and more. Over the years I'd always thought we're going to have to pass it on and other musicians, singer-songwriters and performers should be initiated, get the benefits. And they have. [Meditation has] turned addiction around, it's turned depression around, it's turned schools around, it's turned these musicians around.
It became clear as the Beatles and I were talking about these things -- especially George [Harrison] and I -- it is holding on to fear, frustration, anger and doubt that create within the individual a distressed nervous system. So when we were discussing this: What if we reintroduced meditation to our millions of fans and it was adopted by schools in the whole world -- wouldn't that be extraordinary? Because then maybe each individual would find the source of suffering. And that's why David [Lynch] coined the phrase "change begins within."
What are your future plans?
We had been feeling in these last two years an urge to come back in concert. I got inspired. And I guess a lot of the inspiration was from the nomination, but now our plans can come to fruition. There will be two performances in the summer this for me to flex my musical muscles -- Syracuse Jazz Fest and an extraordinary pagan-sort of festival called Faerieworlds in Eugene, Ore., where I'll be exploring [what] one calls the fey Donovan with all the magical sounds of [my 1971 album] HMS Donovan. So I'll do a couple in the summer and more in the autumn.