Donovan Leitch, the Scottish born folk singer, emerged in the Sixties as a promising and talented singer-songwriter, oftern referred to as the “British Bob Dylan”. Indeed, Donovan appears in the classic Dylan docu Don’t Look Back as the two folk figureheads finally meet when the latter visited London in 1966.
His peers then were The Beatles, whom he was great friends with (Paul appears on ‘Mellow Yellow’ and Donovan taught John how to finger-pick the guitar), the Stones, and of course Mr Dylan, but his continued success throughout the decades has confirmed the influence and popularity of this unique British artist.
Which qualified Donovan perfectly as the second interviewee for Clash Magazine’s Rock And Rules feature - a tutorial in the survival of a life in music and the rules by which one should live. Clash met Donovan one gorgeous Saturday afternoon in August 2006 at the doors of BBC Broadcasting House after he appeared on the Jonathon Ross show, then travelled to a nearby Japanese restaurant where this interview was conducted while progressively getting more drunk on Japanese beer over a plate of crispy seaweed. His rambling answers needed little contribution from Clash, and after some hours in his company we had more than enough material to shape into his learned guidelines.
Below is the full and uncut transcription of that day’s conversation.
When I first told you about what Rock And Rules was about, what was the immediate thought in your head for this piece?
I’d rather not feel bad that I didn’t have something
Are there any rules to learn now to prepare you when you become an icon? I thought, nobody knows they will become an icon. The audience make you an icon and I thought, why? How? How do they make you an icon? Then it became clear. The reason why iconic status is given is because the work you are doing has created a new blend or a new genre or there is such a commitment in your work that you have become a spokesman. And when I thought of that, how can you anticipate being an icon, and I thought, from my own experience of myself and others that have become “iconic”, they usually are singer/songwriters. And these singer/songwriters - me included - before even making a record or before actually gathering an audience, there has been an extraordinarily strong commitment to what you’re doing. And if that strong commitment is linked with songwriting and you have a great sense of wanting to be a voice, that voice that you want to be usually is in a particular genre. And that genre, my own genre, was from the folk scene. But not the traditional folk scene as such, but that folk scene that was feeding off folk music but wanted to sing about current social issues.
So here comes the mission: the icon that you could be, you can’t anticipate being, but there is a part of the icon that is already happening before he or she even makes a record. When I thought about how can you give any advice to an icon, I realised that it’s impossible to actually give advice to how you would deal with being an icon, but if you are an icon based on commitment, mission, songwriting and you come out of a social group of friends and fellow singer/songwriters or singers, you already have a mission and you are going to be able to deal with that when you become an icon. You’re gonna be able to deal with it in the sense that you can say, “I’m doing what I want to do, I’m getting recognition for it and I’m pleased it’s happening.” It’s not a surprise. It’s what you want to do.
And then there’s this thing called Luck. Early interviewers would say to me, “Wasn’t it a great stroke of luck?” I’ve spoken to my contemporaries, from the Swinging Blue Jeans to The Searchers to The Beatles to John Sebastien of Lovin’ Spoonful to John Philips of the Mamas and Papas to The Who, The Kinks, The Animals, The Hollies… At one point I did say, “You wanted to do this, didn’t you? You REALLY wanted to do it?” And they’d say, “Of course we wanted to do it.” Even the bands in suits, although you thought it was just a suit. When you stripped away the suits of The Beatles - and recently, there’s a book coming out by Steve Turner on The Beatles called The Gospel According To The Beatles - and there’s one photo of John Lennon in a beatnik pad in Liverpool and in the middle is a guy called Pete the Beat. So everybody thinks that the four guys were in suits - The Hollies were in suits and they tried to put the Stones in suits… So this thing about putting bands in suits is one thing, but behind it all is this “We want to do this”. At the present they might be doing dance music or covering American hits, but as soon as that band or that singer/songwriter emerges, then there’s going to be a commitment. And that commitment is not a stroke of luck. This is not just because I was at that gig at The Cavern and suddenly I was in Hamburg and suddenly I was a Beatle - there was an actual intention. Linda, my wife, said it’s the intention. So advice to burgeoning emerging icons would be if you’ve got the intention, you’re going to attract an audience anyway.
Then I asked myself why would a singer/songwriter emerge and why would we be called to this vocation? Well, when you go back in history, you find that the dancer, the singer or the poet in tribes, they called them Shamans. And when you see the traditional role of the Shaman in a tribe today, the tribe gather - there’s usually a circle, it’s often at night, there may be a magic plant taken, but a drum begins and a chant begins and dancers start moving and bodies are painted. The audience are transported into an altered state through the sound - not necessarily through the holy plant, but plants can help. Something is happening, and it created over the centuries what we call theatre. And when Thespia, when that actor stepped forward in an ancient Greek drama out of that ritual and started speaking with a mask and reciting poems that were actually written, the audience are transported into an altered state. That altered state is we know we are alive, we know we’ve got a job, we know we have to get the tax on the car, we know we’ve got kids that need schooling, but at one point we want to actually enter an inner world which we feel is our dream world and we want our life to actually have a direction. And all the arts have been developed from the tribe of humanity to be a service.
So it’s very important that the future icon actually remembers that what is going to happen here is you are going to say certain things, sing certain tunes, present certain ideas and you feel it’s a mission; you actually are in service, you are an artist. And therefore - this is going to be very strong for you as an icon - when ridicule comes, when somebody says “But the world isn’t like that”, or “Who are you to actually say this is where it’s at?”, you can take strength in saying, “I’m not the only one. I’m part of centuries old tradition.” And there’s where folk music comes in. Actually, I would suggest, even to a rock ‘n’ roll singer who wants to be a songwriter, I would learn as many folk songs as possible and learn about the heroic status of the heroes in folk songs, because you become a hero. And so the icon could be described as a hero, yeah? And so to be a hero to the audience is the one who stands up.
In the old tribes, and even to this day - I’ve met Shaman chiefs of American Indian tribes - their stories are very consistent. Each of them exhibited something very early and the older Shaman or the members of the tribe saw that this child was having visions or dreams, and so there is a kind of a calling, and then they encourage it. So to be an icon before you’re an icon, it can show itself. It CAN show itself, but there is a protection in knowing - even if you’re on your own, solo, and all your pals think you’re completely crazy and you think you’re gonna say something to the world or say something to your generation that is meaningful, and everybody around you is saying “Rubbish, rubbish, rubbish”, these ridicules actually strengthen the resolve and it’s only those that can overcome that and say, “I hear what you’re saying. You don’t believe in what I’m doing, but I believe in it.” Now, in the old structure, there was people in the tribe that would encourage you. You did have support, but in the modern society it can be rather lonely. Therefore standing up and singing in a club and people are going, “Rubbish! Get off!” and still doing it, is proof that you actually want to do it. If you say, “Yeah, they’re right. I’m rubbish. Maybe I should forget this. Maybe I should go back working in the factory.” Well, you ain’t gonna do that. If you really believe in it you’re gonna keep going.
My own ridicule came really early when I was compared with Bob Dylan, which is a very surface comparison. If you looked at it clearly there was Woody Guthrie, there was a cap, a harmonica harness, sounding like an old man when we were singing… But there was a very important comparison that people missed. Bob didn’t, when they laughed at him when he arrived in New York - which they did - “What’s this hillbilly doing getting up and singing cowboy songs when he should really be singing the Clancey Brothers or the songs of the freedom of the IRA fighters in the 17th Century. Why can’t he really have that commitment when he’s singing the songs of railways and blues singers?” And so they were actually belittling their great history, but Bob was being ridiculed for it. So Bob should have just turned around and said, “Oh, I’m going back to Minnesota. Maybe I should go back to college and get a real job.” Or Donovan being compared to Bob. “Aren’t you the British Bob Dylan?” “No.” You don’t know what you’re actually seeing; therefore that commitment has got to be there. And actually walking up to Bob, introduced by Joan Baez, and saying, “Hi Bob” with the whole press looking on and actually seeing it all over the press - they ask me to this day: “How did you feel?” I say, “On three levels.”
They didn’t really see the true comparison was two bohemian folk singers coming out of a bohemian scene and each had read Kerouac, Ginsberg, Rimbaud and Verlaine and Donovan was well-schooled in at least 27 classic folk songs and Bob had absorbed the same amount. And so these two elements coming together could topple both. Bob dealt with the ridicule that he got with “Fuck you. What do you know? You DON’T know what I’m talking about and I ain’t even gonna explain it.” Whereas my one was for three or four months until ‘Colours’ came out and ‘Universal Soldier’ and they said, ‘Well, this kid is actually somewhere else. Bob and he are from a similar situation but they are going a different place’. And so when that ridicule happens, it can happen early, like my mother shouting up the stairs “Shut up that noise, Donovan! It’s driving me nuts!’ So the future icon should beware of ridicule very early but don’t take a blind bit of notice. Because if you do then you ain’t gonna do what you want to do anyway. The idea of actually performing live, why would we want to do it? Why would Bob stand up there and have everybody go, “What is he singing, cowboy songs?” And why would I stand up in a folk club in London when they all go, “You sound like an American”? Why would we do it? Actually, the resolve that you feel from it is proof. If you wake up the next day and say, “Sod them. I’m gonna do what I’m going to do”, then you already have the commitment.
Commitment is everything. It really is not a job; it’s a vocation. And actually challenging hypocrisy and greed, it’s very rare to find it on your own. You usually have already seen it or heard it in folk songs, and you couldn’t start in a better place than Woody Guthrie. And you couldn’t start in a better place than Kerouac or Ginsberg, who took on the literary world and turned it on its head. Luckily there are friends if you’re in a scene, and it helps in a scene. But even in a scene I was ridiculed by the other Beats who didn’t have the intention or the resolve to want to do it. So when you get up there and you start singing, no matter if it’s an acoustic guitar or an electric guitar, you’ve got a thing you’re doing. You’re doing it. You’ve either got to feed off it and love that life or you’ll do it at weekends. Anyway, that was a lot on that first question!
You told me earlier there were three different types of success.
There are three different types of success. I realised it comes in three shapes after the fact. There is the one hit wonder, the overnight success of one song. And there is the dance band who just either want to get the girls or just play great rock ‘n’ rolls songs and it’s very much of a performance thing. You do covers, like The Searchers or Swinging Blue Jeans, and you do them so well and you love harmonies so much. Harmony has come back, hasn’t it? There are some bands around from the new school of music, which is just delighting in harmony, fun and great chords and indie pop! It’s just like, ‘Let’s just have fun!’ There’s that success, and that can’t go wrong. You can have great fun doing other people’s songs. And then there is the cult. The cult status, I would compare it to The Cure for instance. Your followers actually dress like you, or you’re part of a very, very strange group where it’s theatre really; you’re actually in the world that you want to be in. I’m part of the cult, but I’m mentioning group cult right now. Group cult definitely relies on composing your own works, but it’s shared, not the singer/songwriter solo on his or her own - Joni Mitchell, Donovan, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen… But it’s shared in a cult status. You’re making music for a ritual like a Shamanistic thing, like The Cure did at first, and your fans in the cult, if you make a hit record, they’re gonna abandon you. You’re gonna lose your cult basis and your fans are gonna say, “Why are you doing this?” And you’re gonna say, “I didn’t do anything! I just recorded it and then other people liked it, okay?” But then the dance band element is so cool. There may be a singer/songwriter in there, but the dance band element is so cool because they’re playing other people’s tunes and can interpret them and you can have a fantastic fun time just performing other music, but at one point the dance band is gonna have to write their own songs when they realise that publishing is actually the basis of the industry.
That’s what happened to the Stones, isn’t it?
Yes. Andrew [Loog Oldham] wanted to encourage the boys to write, but they were already probably on the way. I know this very personally because Linda was with Brian Jones before I met her and Brian was writing. But the songs weren’t… I mean, Brian was writing some spaced-out stuff that wasn’t anything to do with the blues structure or the pop structure or the Motown structure. So, that dance band feeling can be great. Because you’re actually playing - if it’s rhythm and blues that you’re influenced by and not just American pop - what you’ve got is a love of blues but you’re not writing.
The Beatles at that time were writing; they’d started to write. Linda pointed out some interesting things to me. She said on my first record I introduced more self-penned songs than Bob or The Beatles or the Stones did on their first record. And I said, “How odd.” She said, “It’s not so odd, because your dad had been reading you poetry and you’ve been writing poetry.” But why Dylan didn’t… It was obviously Dylan was just overwhelmed maybe by the songs he was performing with Guthrie and the blues that it didn’t occur to him that there were maybe more of his songs. So the Stones weren’t writing, it’s true, and Linda said how it happened was Andrew called up John and Paul and invited them down to London. The Beatles had wanted to meet Brian and Mick and Keith anyway. She was in the room. Andrew said, “Would you write something for the Stones to get them going?” And they saw what Brian was doing on the slide and wrote ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’. Because Brian was completely besotted by Elmore James and Muddy Waters and all that slide guitar stuff. So the dance band should be introduced to writing songs. That’s the money, that’s control, that’s image; that’s everything. I don’t think it’s any problem that you don’t write songs, but at one point you’re gonna want to.
But the overnight success, one hit wonder, I met a couple of those and that was extraordinary. From one song you can make a whole career. That’s cool, but then that one song, be careful because it can be bought from under you. In the old days these songs were bought. There’s the famous story - I can’t remember the writer of ‘Save The Last Dance For Me’ - but I think he was driving a cab! A lawyer said, “That’s your song. I’m gonna get it back for you.” So that kind of success is very strange, it’s like that one song but it’s missing the commitment. If you wanna go back to being a cab driver, you ain’t cult. You don’t want to do this. There’s no drive. So these three kinds of success that I’ve seen, that I’ve experienced, are separated into two parts. You’re either an entertainer and you don’t really push your own songwriting, ambience, attitude or genre - and I don’t really see either one as weaker than the other, it’s just that I come from the other, the mission of the songwriter.
And the element of character - it depends on your character, and Linda would be the first to say your astrological sign, how you actually deal with this when you become successful. If you’re a member of a band, it’s a committee. First danger - no matter whether you’re writing songs or recording others and you’ve got success as a band - the first danger is you can be separated from your band, where they isolate the good-looking singer and songwriter. It’s much better to divide and conquer; “The band are rubbish. We’ll get you another band. We’ll take you from the band and we’ll push you. You are better than them.” That is a big danger and a great heartbreaker and it’s happened so many times. So how do you avoid that? If you’re Blondie, you don’t do that. If you’re The Pretenders, you don’t do that. You stick with your sound. That maybe doesn’t happen so much now, but it did and it was terribly heartbreaking for a lot of bands. At the same time, maybe the drummer says, “I don’t like it.” There’s Mark Knopfler and his brother, David. He walked away at one point. He said, “I can’t be bothered with this.” Too big. So character is very important. Are you ready for this? Do you wanna do this? Is this really stressful? I mean, we can come down a few notches from mission and Shamanistic levels to where ‘I don’t really like being screamed at or chased by girls with scissors for a lock of my hair’ or ‘I actually want to go back to college’. There’s all these things in bands that maybe is okay to do at weekends but you don’t really want to make your life. That attitude still lingers in the musician. He doesn’t actually want to leave society. He doesn’t feel he’s an entertainer or with any mission or with any total commitment. There’s three kinds of fame there.
I’m not even going to talk about girls. Because I’m not a girl, and to be presented as a sex-starlet is a completely different thing and totally manipulative. My daughter Astrella has avoided it like the plague and she just won’t play the game, and yet the game of girls in rock is a certain kind of game today, isn’t it? You’re produced - and we haven’t even talked about production, because presenting this music is very important. Producers have got to be included in bands’ and songwriters’ missions, definitely, because that is your link to your process of getting your material on tape. Although the folk singer seems to have it easy, but not so, because Dylan’s first record and my first record were actually produced; they actually had a producer. My guitar was - I realised when I heard it; I loved it - was compressed and limited and squeezed until it had this ‘ssshhhooooo’ sound to it. That is the other element of this business. A producer is so important. If you can’t do it yourself, get somebody and have fun doing it.
a tutorial in the survival of a life
Everything so far has been about technique, attitude, mission, commitment, ridicule, challenging hypocrisy, doing what you want to do. Don’t go back - if you do go back then you’re not really set to be a professional committed musician/singer/songwriter; you will not enter the world of art completely. If you’ve got any lingering doubts that this life is not for you, don’t push it. To really survive, they call them ‘roadies’, but the real best-friend syndrome is before you actually get involved in the business, if you have a pal and you’re kind of like a duo; you kind of look after each other. Gypsy Dave was that for me. I would travel with a guitar. We would arrive in Nottingham and go to the Trip To Jerusalem pub and there’d be a guy there with a bit of money and he’s too pissed and he loves music and we said, “Maybe this guy would like to make a record? We’re kind of wanting to do it already.” But Gypsy’s looking out, and we’re all looking out for each other, and that looking out, if you actually have a buddy before it happens, then when you get success, across that crowded room with lots of drugs and substance abuse and lots of other things going on, somebody will be looking out for you and you’re looking out for them. Especially if one of you is going to be presented as the iconic figure, then there’s got to be somebody looking over your shoulder and saying, “Is this okay? Shall we get out of here?”
And it also helps to maybe have tried a few substances before you enter fame. Because, look at River Phoenix. He didn’t know what he was taking. He came from an alternative beatnik family, but he didn’t know what was going on. There are two sets of drugs. Forget the classes A, B and C, which are all higgledy-piggledy stupid political descriptions of which are safe and which ain’t. There is nothing that’s safe. Food isn’t even safe. Know one’s limit? The attitude to heavy drugs Gypsy and I had already set. We saw junkies. Cocaine wasn’t prevalent but we saw that too. Anything that makes you feel good sounds good, but anything that makes you feel bad when you ain’t got it is no good. ‘Oh, heroin is great,’ a junkie will tell you. You feel great when you’ve got it, but you feel bad when you ain’t. Does that make sense? It doesn’t make any sense at all. In actual fact when you don’t have it you feel terrible? Oh great, that’s called addiction, isn’t it? Right, so, big lesson: comedown. If you’re gonna do anything - drink or substances or anything - watch the hard ones. Don’t go anywhere near them for Christ’s sake. If you do, it’s probably been a mistake. You probably didn’t know what it was, because if you did know what it was, then you would have made a decision that you would rather feel bad when you ain’t got just to feel good when you’ve got. That’s not a deal. That deal doesn’t exist. Don’t do that deal. That deal’s nothing.
How did you feel about your contemporaries that had made that mistake fatally?
Well, is it a mistake? I don’t know. I presumed that they hadn’t hung out with enough junkies before they tried it. Otherwise, to see the needle on the pillow or a needle stuck in an arm at 4 in the morning, to actually see that… But my decision was very simple. I’d rather not feel bad that I didn’t have something. I’d rather not have it than feel bad that I didn’t have it. But that’s kind of a character thing again, see? I can imagine that fame, once it happens, it’s inevitable that any success has with it this ‘Guess what we’re doing tonight? We’re doing everything and we’re doing anything.’ But to actually have seen it and done it before fame is much better, and I guess most people are doing that anyway now. I mean, I was in Bedford last night and the streets were filled with armed police and clubs. The club culture has invaded every town, no matter how big or how small. Dealers follow club opening.
So maybe it’s a completely different world since 1962, but substance abuse is not just in the music business. You basically can get screwed up any way you want. Really, character is everything. Oh, by the way, money - we haven’t spoke about money! It’s kind of been absent from my whole conversation. If it was ever a motive to actually make money out of it then maybe you’re in the wrong pair of shoes, you know? Because it’s not that you can’t make money, but if it’s the actual main motive for fame or to have your pictures in the paper - which is all part of it, I suppose - but to actually say “I really want this. I want money, I want fame, I want celebrity…” And then the other one is: “I want a big car, a big house, I want as much money as I need, I want everything…”
And that brings us into that extraordinary bizarre area of television auditions, where you could actually experience your ridicule in front of six million people if the person said “Rubbish!” Now why would you do that? Thank Your Lucky Stars was a show in the 60s that was something to do with that. And then there’s that movie, American Dreams, which I turned on the other night in the hotel, where it takes it to the limit, like “Here are your heroes. Here are your future icons”. But they’re not really. And yet it’s not belittling anybody that wants to entertain, it’s just that any dancer or actress or actor who’s ever gone to audition with 300 people will tell you the same thing. They HAVE to do it because they’re part of a production and that kind of music star is part of a production. It’s image, production, record company… Publishing doesn’t seem to come into it. Because if there was an actual song writing contest on television, I don’t know how anybody would be able to judge whether the song is great… except on the Eurovision! And wasn’t the Eurovision this year absolutely hilarious? The song that actually won was not a song but a live video of monsters from Scandinavia! I thought it was hilarious, it was great! The song doesn’t really matter. And here’s another little funny story: the Irish won the Eurovision twice in a row, did you know that? And the third time, the Irish decided they’d try to find the worst song possible because they couldn’t afford to win it again! That is nuts! But Sandie Shaw was on there, and I love what she brought. She brought a kind of a cool vibe… But, um, a heavy-on-the-song artist can’t fail. If you’re heavy on the songwriting, if you really are doing your own thing, there’s no way you can fail. But we were talking about money. If it’s a motive, it’s completely out of my league. But money will come.
If you were in it for money you would make wrong decisions for the money.
Well, maybe you could create it. Maybe you could create a single… Were the Sex Pistols created? Was it an actual fashion item and Vivienne Westwood’s involvement was never told? Was the management actually creating a fashion? Was it actually an event? Was it an actual real event? Were they middle class or working class? Does it matter? What is it? You can assault the worlds of music in different ways. Or is it better to be a cult like Nirvana out of Seattle or Portishead out of Bristol where in actual fact you’re part of a scene. It’s much healthier. Actually, it’s much more wonderful and lovelier. Flipron is a new band out of Bristol, and they’re absolutely nuts. I mean, they don’t care. They were part of five that were presented in the Telegraph magazine recently, where fame is not really an option. Commitment, eclectic stance is everything. But does that also mean that it would be wonderful if we sold a few records? But then, the music hall element in popular music is an extraordinary thing. The music hall element, I mean like [sings] “Sgt.Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band…” What’s that got to do with Chuck Berry? Or “They call me Mellow Yellow…” What’s that got to do with folk music or pop? And yet this thing of stance and attitude and creating a hit, yes you can think of the money in that sense - ‘We would like to create a song that actually attracted success and with that money we could make the greatest album we’ve ever made’. So you can use a single like a lure in fishing; that’s fine, I think that’s no question at all. If you come up with an idea and you say, ‘This idea for a song I think could be really cool’, but then who’s gonna sing it? Are you gonna sell it? I mean, present it to another singer? That’s publishing, and that’s a great game. It’s wonderful to be able to compose that kind of thing.
But, into the world of Clash and the future, one could actually make one’s own single. One could actually not care about whether people like it or not. You’re gonna make your own single and you’re going to have your own Internet presence, and MySpace might be a place to go. Maybe if 2000 people around the world dig this, yeah a big record company might get attracted. But isn’t that the way it happened in recent black club music? The record was already a hit and the record company reps were saying, “Can we have it?” And they were saying, “No you can’t, unless you pay us an enormous amount of money. But we don’t even want to give it to you; we’ve got our market.” So, it’s all different and changeable. Iconic status is where we began. How do you handle publishing, records, business, legal, accounts? Presumably there’s enough books out now already? Legal - can somebody still steal a song? Presumably yeah, I suppose. Why would one care about it? Really you want to have control over what you do. How do you do publishing on the Internet or on MySpace? Is there something in place? There must be. There should be. By Christmas, I’m told, there will be 50 million downloads in Britain alone for singles, and a download now registers on the chart. So it’s taken a few years, but it seems that the publishing world and the record world have finally put some kind of order on it, because there should be.
There’s two camps - and I was in one and not the other - but with Napster, if the songs were being taken for nothing is it called advertising or theft? Because if it’s advertising then an artist may be discovered by someone who wants to buy the album. But I’m glad that it’s organised in some way. Not so much for me as I’ve got so much publishing coming from so many different areas, but for that one songwriter of the first category of success who may only have that song. THAT is his mortgage. THAT is his children’s education. Back to socialism: there has got to be some kind of payment, just because some don’t have and some have got too much. So is it okay for me, because I’ve got too much, to say it’s okay to take one of my songs? No it isn’t, because I should say you can’t take my songs. Not because I need the money, but because there’s somebody that hasn’t got the money that you can’t take his song, so there’s got to be some order here. But then is there? Is it total freedom in the long run? They say that in actual fact music will be free, you’ll just be paying for the service to get the music. Or will there come a time when somebody will launch a satellite, which you can’t control, and music will be free? And what are you paying for then? Anything? You’ll be buying space. Your magazine should always remain a printed item, just as I think CDs should always remain something solid. It’s nice to have something. If it immediately becomes virtual in any way, you’re going to lose your edge in a way, because the whole thing about the page on the Internet is one thing but the beautiful page of your magazine is another.
What is the tool the arts bring to us? Introspection is the tool. What is introspection? Contemplation. What does contemplation lead to? The inner world. What is the inner world? Why is music invisible? The Chinese speak of it in the ancient Book of Changes that music is the invisible sound, which releases the obscure emotions of the heart. If in the year 2060 we’re still here and the stupidity and the greed and the hypocrisy and the ugliness and the chaos and the spoiling of the planet is at its extreme, what would be the saviour? Well, it would have to be introspection, contemplation, meditation, yoga; somehow to actually look at this situation from an inner space. There wouldn’t be another prophet like a Jesus or a Buddha, but actually an understanding that there’s this inner world. Science is discovering it; the unified feel within everybody is, in yoga, mirrored in the scientific world where they’ve arrived at the spot where the atoms disappear, but they know that the power must come from somewhere. So it’s semi-religious but it’s not really. It’s actually a reality.
So what is it that the musician of great power is giving? Is it hedonism? Is it ‘Have the greatest time’, or ‘Wear my hair cut’, or ‘Buy the clothes that I wear’? Or is it an inner world that is being explored here? And so, looking into the future, can you imagine the future substance abuse? In the year 2060 there’s an icon and he’s in a Chill Bar somewhere in probably Reykjavik - the new music scene is in Iceland. It’s the purest atmosphere. All the great makers of music in the year 2060 have relocated in an Echo Dome and they’re beaming out through their own satellites all around the world to Slamz, that’s Islamic rock enthusiasts, or to Tibetz, with all those Tibetan kids up there in China, because China has given Tibet back to Tibet. And all the way up there in Reykjavik in a Chill Room, some crazy Eskimo artist is sitting next to a pop tart and she’s just drank acid saliva and it’s on her lipstick - that’s how they take drugs then. And he’s just about to kiss her, and he says, “Just a minute. Let me just consult that early issue of Clash in 2006 that Donovan did…” And he goes on to his laptop, which is not a laptop anymore, it’s like a palm; it’s just on his palm. Actually we’re all keyed in now; the actual glove that is so hip from the ski world and in the dance world is now your computer, and you don’t even have to look at it, you just know where to press… And then this holographic image comes up of Donovan in a Japanese restaurant on a sleepy Saturday afternoon and - click - he goes to the issue. He sees the issue in the hologram and it says, “Beware of substance abuse”. He turns around to the girl and says, “I just had to check that out before I eat your tongue.” So I was just sending up the whole idea of how can you prepare yourself for anything. It would be great if highs actually had a 1 to 9 but the 10th you went back to 1. That would be great. You could go up and the tenth would take you all the way down again. It doesn’t work like that. Character is everything. Beware of drugs, is that what I’m saying? No. Beware of commitment. In the beginning, if your commitment is solid, there is no question; you’re gonna do it. How you deal with this fame is another thing. By the way, there are dangers from without, and those dangers are not just money or fame or legalities or lawsuits or greed or management or publishing…
What about attitudes? For instance, if someone is constantly saying to you “You’re amazing. You’re great. You’re the star” and you start to get an ego, how do you deal with that and how do you survive without thinking that you’re untouchable?
Okay. Well, the first glib answer for when somebody says: “You’re fantastic. You’re great. You’ve just changed my life”, you could say, “I know.” But that would suggest that you know the effect that you’re having. The other one is, “Yes I know. Aren’t I fantastic?” So what is it? Why does somebody give you adulation? You could say, “Actually they’re not seeing me. They’re seeing the icon image. They’re seeing the elevated consciousness that I’m presenting.” My father used to raise his voice when reciting certain poems to another level. They call it Shakespearean accents now. He elevated himself to a status that we call theatre. So when somebody is giving you kudos for influencing their life, for bringing a change to them, it wasn’t easy for me to actually say that they were actually praising me. I couldn’t say that. I always understood that what they were actually praising is the healing they felt in listening or understanding something in a song.
This is said about healers, by the way. Once the person says, “Thank you, you’ve healed me”, the true healer would say, “No, you healed yourself. I only held up the mirror to the healing powers you have. Don’t confuse me with you. You saw something and you did it.” But they say, “No, it was you. We’re going to build a statue to you. It’s going to be ten feet high and bronze and you’re going to have your guitar.” Yeah right. It wasn’t me. I actually provided a service, so I don’t need to be told that I did it. In actual fact I provided a service. So then I read in an ancient book that there was a pagan priest - and that means before Christianity - and those around him were healed and released in some way. They said, “How did you do that?” He said, “I didn’t do it. I created the circumstances for it to happen.” So now we’re going into the esoteric, where somebody did say to Dylan recently, “How did you manage to write all these songs?” And he said, “You think I wrote them?” Which is a very interesting reply. You think, “Oh yeah, he’s just saying that.” No, the circumstances the art creates allows a free flow of others to benefit from it.
I’m tiptoeing around the word ‘religion’ because it’s nothing to do with religion; it’s to do with a circle. The arts is a circle of events, music being the invisible event that leads the listener into themselves. But it’s not themselves. There’s only one inner space. It’s been spoken about in all mystery schools. Out of this inner space some call God, all manifestation happens; all things are created from the smallest to the largest, and back into this space all things decay and deteriorate. But there is one constant that never dies, and that’s the consciousness that we have, that we’re all actually heroes in our own drama, and the arts and legends and myths present again and again and again the story of Romeo and Juliet, Arthur and Guinevere, the dark force fights the light force, and in all these stories it could be the lovers on the corner getting that bus down the road back home. That’s Romeo and Juliet there, they may be miscast; they may be in a tragic situation. And the one overriding fact always is death. In all the myths and legends and fairytales, death is confronted heroically, because we’re all going to drop the body; it’s going to go. But what will remain?
Linda has got to be the last part of this section of our tale, because if you’d actually had that roadie buddy when you were 16 and then you became famous and he looked after you and looked out for you, then you’re lucky and you’re blessed. But if you actually fall in love and personify in your work a partner that is your muse, your life, your partner, your wife, your friend, your reason, but the actual idea of love, what you’re presenting is, through one song - one tragic song called ‘Lalena’ and one beautifully elevated love song called ‘Sunshine Superman’ - you see this relationship. So we as singer/songwriters present the possibility of being heroic in your own life. Without which, if you can’t make your own music, we have to make it for you. Imagine a world without music. I couldn’t. In fact, harmony, structure, poetry and dance is a flow. We haven’t heard a piece of music here for three hours, but that’s not to say there’s music going on everywhere right now, everywhere. People are living, dying, waking, sleeping, birthing, loving to music. It’s an extraordinary event is music. You become iconic and famous and become elevated - you could be an Elvis or a Marilyn Monroe, that iconic status is so extreme. You could become a Lennon and become a tragedy about to happen. Poor John didn’t ask for it. Do we kill our heroes? It’s an extraordinary event to be an icon, and I wouldn’t advise it to actually want to be one, but if it is thrust upon you, character is everything in how you deal with it. In the beginning you knew that you had something to say. We make icons of our heroes because there is a lack of true spiritual teaching, and I would have to say my music in particular offers a kind of a healing system if you listen to it with a certain attitude. The Stones or Keane or Evanescence, they also offer a certain kind of healing system, and it depends where you are when you’re experiencing it, and to actually have it all, we’re so lucky we have it all. And is there one radio station that plays it all? No. But is there one magazine that presents it? No, but you get pretty close.
Talking of healing, my friend’s dad died about 6 years ago and at his funeral they played ‘Catch The Wind’.
The really highly skilled - and I am - I’m like Bob and Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen and Neil Young; we’re very highly skilled songwriters. In the old days the bard - in the bardic tradition, and the last bardic school of poetry was in Scotland in the 1700s - can you believe that? There were schools of poetry where a poet, a singer/songwriter, performer, had to learn all the levels of human condition for songwriting, from birth to death to marriages to seasonal changes. And one of the most powerful and damaging styles was called satire, where in a song a public figure - even a king - could be destroyed with three couplets, and therefore songwriters were feared. They tried to control them. The Moroccan poet is still in jail. The power of the word is really powerful and actually with music it goes directly to the people, and that’s why often it’s controlled in society, but it can never be controlled again. Maybe this is its weakness. Television and radio and Internet media exposure has actually diluted the protest element of new movements, because nobody really believes that there’s a war because it looks just like television. So what is the thing that is going to… I read today in The Guardian that there’s a masturbation festival about to happen? I thought, ‘My God, I thought we’d already gone through all this sexual confrontation’, but there is one or two or three or maybe hundreds of areas that still have to be confronted. Can it still be protest? Why should it be protest? Does it have to be protest? Yes, there has to be a confrontation of some kind, but also a healing, and music is the invisible sound. It’s so invisible that I think it’s working on so many channels at once. You know when a tune comes into your head? Where is that music coming from? Was I thinking about it or was somebody else thinking about it?