October 8, 2005

Reading about rubber bananas while really very hungry.

Oh, I've been sitting in this café for so long. The large capuccino glass has been empty for .... is it hours? That cookie -- a large cookie, admittedly -- is the only solid food I've eaten all day. I have every intention -- and have had every intention for an hour -- of relocating to a restaurant. I'm thinking sesame chicken. But somehow I keep finding one more thing to read. And so there's this, a little diary by Donovan, part of a promotion of his autobiography, "Hurdy Gurdy Man," and when we drove over to the café -- hours ago -- we were playing "Hurdy Gurdy Man" on the CD player and talking a lot about Donovan and how much we love the song "Hurdy Gurdy Man" (which, John argued, Prince ripped off in "Sign O' the Times").

An excerpt from the Donovan diary:
I went to Capital Radio, where I'd earlier sent around two dozen rubber bananas. You put your mobile phone in them, a cute idea taken from the Marx Brothers movie where they'd pick up a banana and say, "Hello?" My song Mellow Yellow means I am forever associated with bananas so I thought I'd give them away on air. That night I played the beautiful Café de Paris in front of 600 fans.
Must get food.

UPDATE: Eating sesame chicken now. Really feeling much better. Still love Donovan....

ANOTHER UPDATE: Here's a nice long piece about Donovan's book. Some excerpts:
His sexual libertarianism was also shaped by teenage reading of the Beats, particularly Jack Kerouac. “When I read On The Road it seemed like there were gals in the bohemian world who were willing to break the conditioning of their background, and refused to be pushing a pram, refused to marry in the normal way, and wished to be artists. These gals were not just sexual objects, they had freedom and an artistic bent. I was fascinated by those liberated females – not just because of the sexual freedom but because they had left society.”....

He also had the misfortune to appear on the national stage in the very year – 1965 – that Bob Dylan was abandoning folk and pushing forward the frontiers of pop and rock . They met when Dylan toured Britain that year, and Donovan appears in DA Pennebaker’s documentary, Don’t Look Back. Conventional thinking on the film is that Dylan is sneering at Donovan, who performs a song for him, but Donovan doesn’t see it that way. “Absolute bullshit,” he snaps. “If you actually look at the movie, Bob is honouring my work.”

The allegation clearly hurts. I hadn’t even asked about Don’t Look Back; he brought it up himself. I do want to know, however, what it’s like for Donovan, trying to celebrate his 40th anniversary when suddenly 2005 turns into the year of Bob Dylan. Surely it must be frustrating that even after all these years he can’t escape the man’s shadow? “I’m going to have a pee,” he says, “but I’ll be back, and we’ll address that.”...

There is a scene in the book where he has gone to bed with the American folk singer Joan Baez, but when she reminisces about sex with Bob Dylan his ardour is considerably dampened....


lindsey said...

Did you know that Ione Skye from "Say Anything" is Donovan's daughter?

Ann Althouse said...


Jonathan said...

Never blog hungry. This is one of my main rules.

SippicanCottage said...
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Ann Althouse said...

I hope you realize the studio musicians on that song are Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, John Bonham, and Jeff Beck. You need to bow down to the hurdy gurdy man.

SippicanCottage said...
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OddD said...

Huh. I know Donovan from...an episode of "Futurama". (Hey, don't laugh. Al Gore's stock went up in my book when he appeared on that show, even if his daughter was one of the writers.)

lindsey said...

I didn't know. I just found out from a magazine article yesterday. You're the fifth person I've told! I must spread the news!

XWL said...

I had such a crush on Ione in junior high (her locker was next to mine, I was incapable at the time of comprehensible utterances around attractive girls to my eternal regret, and she was great as Ann Veal's hot mom on Arrested Development, that's another scary thought, peers playing teenage parents on TV).

That's all I can think of when Donovan is mentioned, besides that his music was better than his reputation.

And I like the word verification for this comment (gayfcrqu)

Ann Althouse said...

Check out the Mojo list of 100 Greatest Guitarists. Jimmy Page is #7 and Jeff Beck is #13.

SippicanCottage said...
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reader_iam said...

"shemay shemay shemay shemay"

One of the first clear backups that our son (now 5, but then 18-ish mos) ever provided that was actually dead on, score speaking, in concert with others ... father on guitar and lead vocals, mom on "harmonies" ...

(In "concert" in the sense of ensemble, not in the sense of public fame, of course!!!!!)

Way too fun, this post ... we've been breaking out the Donovan tonight ...

Hail, Atlantis!

reader_iam said...

Left out the ellipses between the 3rd and 4th "shemay," which wouldn't matter except that was the part we found so funny-odd: he got that the first set was in three and that there was a pause followed by a restart, but he then would stop abruptly, for no reason we could discern. Was it "enough of that"? Who knows? But he was oddly consistent for a bit there.

The only period of time, as an adult, that I wished I could read a mind (mostly I find that too scary of a concept) was the first 2-1/2 years of my kid's life.

SippicanCottage said...
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ziemer said...

jeff beck should be number 1 on the list, or 2, after robert fripp.

btw, did you guys know that donovan is the one singing the femme english vocals on alice cooper's "billion dollar babies"?

paulfrommpls said...

Why is George Harrison on that list? Above Robert Johnson? Was this a poll of people who don't know anything?

And what's the reason for the random letter verification? To make sure you have your monitor turned on?

By the way, for J. Garcia, the cut to go to is Not Fade Away/Goin' Down the Road from the live 1971 double popularly called "Skull and Roses."

Ann Althouse said...

Paul: Without the letter verification, a third of the comments would be spam, with links to commercial websites. I find them hard to type in myself.

Rock musicians think highly of George Harrison. Mojo defends each of its choices. Obviously, a lot of opinion is involved and the decisionmakers are focused on rock music. I think innovation counts and specific recorded passages mattered in the analysis. (Chez Althouse, we recommend the solo from "In Bloom" for those who see no reason to respect Kurt Cobain.) It's not just a matter of technical skill or being the most famous exemplar of an established style.

paulfrommpls said...

Okay. Although I can't help but recall descriptions of Sir George Martin getting frustrated and showing Sir George Harrison exactly what to play on some songs.

However, I am sympathetic to the "great moments" argument. You can't be a Dead devotee without relying on that argument pretty heavily. Plus, it's a big reason Kirby Puckett reached the Hall in his first year of eligibility.

SippicanCottage said...
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John Althouse Cohen said...

Although I can't help but recall descriptions of Sir George Martin getting frustrated and showing Sir George Harrison exactly what to play on some songs.

I have read a lot of stuff about the Beatles, and I have never read this. Even people (like me) who think George Harrison belongs on the list of 100 greatest guitarists will admit that he wasn't a virtuoso. But the idea that he didn't know how to play is absurd.

Also, it's common for producers to make suggestions to musicians. And vice versa: musicians give production suggestions to producers. This could just mean that people are sharing musical ideas; it doesn't mean that anyone's competent.

paulfrommpls said...

John Althouse Cohen -

It's in "Shout! The Beatles in Their Generation," came out in 1996. I read it a couple years ago at my sister's house; I think it's pretty well-regarded. One of the plotlines of the story the book relates is George's intense awareness of not being a genius like Paul and John (whether that was accurate or not). It was in that context that there was a pretty sad description of Martin getting frustrated, showing George no respect, and saying "Here, George - play this."

I wasn't there, so who can say.

The book does end on an up-note for George, with Abbey Road described as essentially his album, and the point where he broke through to something he hadn't been able to before. As a near-genius myself, I find it inspiring.

Ann Althouse said...

Paul: We have that book in the house, along with many others. The theme is that Martin patronized George. P. 259:

At a certain moment in each session, George Martin would leave John and Paul and cross the cable-strewn floor to George Harrison, waiting apart from the others, unsmiling with his Grecht rehearsal guitar. George would then play to George Martin whatever solo he had worked out for the song. If Martin didn't like it, he would lead George to the piano, tinker a little phrase and tell him to play that for his solo. Such was the origin of the guitar interlude in "Michelle." "I was," Martin admits, "always rather beastly to George."

John Althouse Cohen said...

Paul: The anecdote in Shout! suggests that, at least on that occasion, George Martin was frustrated with George Harrison's musical ideas. That does not mean that Martin though Harrison was a terrible guitarist. The Beatles often had disagreements about what should go in the songs—John hated the last verse of Eleanor Rigby when it was first suggested.

paulfrommpls said...

Fair enough; although I believe you would agree that George was on his own evidently suffering from some feelings of inferiority, which Martin was perhaps responding to unkindly, but I don't think you can say he was responsible for them.

And I'll bet Robert Johnson wouldn't have put up with it from Martin!

Ann Althouse said...

Paul: I'll bet a lot of musicians hold their anxieities inside. Whether or not they are bold about standing up for themselves or whether they suffer from feelings of inferiority doesn't have much to do with how great they actually are. And a lot of the people who have the most confidence in their musical abiliity are quite mistaken -- that's what makes "American Idol" such a fun TV show.

paulfrommpls said...

It's definitely true that self-confidence does not necessarily mean talent. However, as to whether true talent and genius are almost always accompanied by a degree of confidence: I suspect it may usually be the case.

Of course there are exceptions, and people grow, as George evidently did, as the book relates. Plus it would have been very hard for someone with a degree of self-doubt to deal with John especially, who apparently was able to zero in on that in somone, if I'm remembering.

I mean if it's honestly true that George bore some kind of prime responsibility for Abbey Road: hard to argue with that.

Basically, it's his placement above Robert Johnson I find a litle ridiculous. Obviously it's a cliche for a midwestern white guy who once played guitar to pronounce on the abilities of Robert Johnson, but it's true all the same: when you listen to his precision, that's one of the main things, and the originality, and the simple beauty of the lines he played; it really is astounding. "Come On In My Kitchen" is a good place to begin, for any who haven't. (You probably have.)

Precision, by the way, is an aspect of Dylan's early guitar-playing that gets overlooked.

I'm into precision, I just noticed. In argumentation and guitar playing. The early Garcia was precise and muscular; the post-heroin Garcia got less and less so.

SippicanCottage said...
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paulfrommpls said...

Sippican C -

I know what you're saying, and it's true in large part, but it's also not quite that simple, I don't think.

Poetry exists, right? And can have actual meaning?

I'm not sure what law of metaphysics makes it utterly absurd that a pop song lyric could ever approach that level.

SippicanCottage said...
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SippicanCottage said...
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paulfrommpls said...

Oh, it's rare. No doubt. Like I said before on Dylan, the main tool is simple-as-possible vernacular. Ot at least simple-sounding.

One of Merle Haggard's contributions over the years is his recording some of the best songs by some of the best behind the scenes songwriters, like Sonny Throckmorton.

Wish I were down
On some blue bayou
With a bamboo cane
Stuck in the sand
But the road I'm on
Don't seem to go there
So I just dream and keep on bein'
The way I am

Of course with any of them the lines are written to be sung and come off best that way.

Here's something of Merle's:

Tulare dust
In a farm boy's nose
Wonderin' where
The freight train goes
Standing in the field
By the railroad track
Cursin' the strap
On my cotton sack
I see mom and dad
With shoulders low
Both of 'em pickin'
On a double row
They do it for a livin'
Because they must
That's life like it is
In the Tulare dust

By the way, I assume "Hurdy Gurdy Man" was some kind of attempt to mimic Mr. Tambourine Man, which Dylan said (I read this somewhere) was the only song of his he ever consciously tried to recapture in some way.

SippicanCottage said...
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paulfrommpls said...

Oh, so it's rock songs. Rock songs do tend to be too poetic and reaching for some kind of profundity, often revolutionary, beyond what the writers can support intelligence- or soul-wise.

But there are many, still. (They're not exactly "rare," like I said, they're just outnumbered and outweighed.) Some of them have to do with the sound of the words, as much or more than the literal meaning of the words. But that's true for a lot of poetry I guess. I've always though "John Wesley Harding" is Dylan's greatest "sound of the words" album.

Off the top of my head, songs I think stand up over time at least in part (beside Dylan of course, that's just cheating, find a lyric site, find Hattie Carroll, aka The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll and go from there):

LA Woman - "Lucky little lady in the city of lights, just another lost angel... so alone, so alone..." and so on. A lot of the Beach Boys, taken on their own terms. A lot of Van Morrison. Chuck Berry - amazing. And even select entries from the G. Dead. "Ripple in still water, where there is no pebble tossed, nor wind to blow." It was always called a haiku, although it's not quite. But it's a nice evocation of miraculous out-of-nothing creation, I always thought.

Lotta great soul songwriting, too. Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham, say.


paulfrommpls said...

Speaking of time telling:

"Time will tell just who has fell, and who's been left behind.. when you go your way and I go mine!"

Da DA, da DA, da DA da
Da DA, da DA, da DA da

I love that line and that riff. (It's guitar at the end. It's the first song on Blonde on Blonde if you didn't know.)