Think about what fires and inspires great literature. Passion, intensity, strong characters, gripping stories, powerful imagery, a timelessness of theme and emotion that can make something written in, say, the 18th century still seem fresh and relevant today.
The same ingredients also apply to great music, meaning that a crossing of the genres often provides memorable creations: Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights and Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road are arguably the highest profile examples, but did you know that T’Pau’s China In Your Hand is about Mary Shelley and Frankenstein?
It’s usually at this point that the quote, “writing about music is like dancing about architecture” is trotted out and attributed to Frank Zappa (although it seemed it was actually the American actor and musician Martin Mull who first used the phrase), but although it’s a nifty bit of word play it’s also bollocks.Music has inspired some incredible writing, from the pioneering rock journalism of Lester Bangs to chroniclers of music history such as Greil Marcus to the current crop of outstanding memoirs, especially from women such as Tracey Thorn, Viv Albertine and Cosey Fanni Tutti. Continue reading →
The Autobiography of Donovan The Hurdy Gurdy Man By Donovan Leitch. Illustrated. 287 pages. St. Martin’s Press. $24.95.
In his prime, the astral singer-songwriter Donovan appeared to take a serene view of show business and its cutthroat ways. Not anymore. Nowadays, Donovan would like you to know that he never received proper credit for Flower Power, World Music, New Age Music, the boxed-set album package, using LSD and the lyric “Love, Love, Love” before the Beatles did and playing folk-rock five months before Bob Dylan wielded an electric guitar at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival.
These claims — legitimate, by the way — do not emerge from total oblivion, but it’s close. Donovan has spent decades hiding in plain sight. He never entirely stopped performing or recording, but he has not been part of the 1960’s-nostalgia boom. Only now, with a memoir, a reissued collection of his music and a big hit (“Catch the Wind”) used in a car commercial, has he come back into view.
Donovan once wrote a song called “Atlantis” that marveled at a lost world. His own re-emergence prompts similar emotion. “The Autobiography of Donovan” is a very strange book (what else?) that revisits the fertile, trippy 60’s, the elaborately constructed aura of Donovan’s beatitude, the wild incongruities of that era’s popular culture (when the guest list for one Donovan party included Milton Berle, Jimmy Durante and the Doors) and the lingo that has become so quaint. “And, man, I was gratified when the fab chicks screamed,” he writes in all seriousness about appearing on his first television show.
The overall language of this book is no less peculiar. It starts in the heavy Scottish dialect of his early years (“I used to sleep wi’ ma mammy”). [ . . . ]