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”). [ . . . ]