Friday, September 30, 2011

Three verses to go

Last weekend I received the biggest boost ever for a song when my brother-in-law Mike heard me play "Red Dress" -- which has only three verses (so far) and no bridge -- and said it would have been perfect at the end of the Jeff Bridges film Crazy Heart. Well he is an old schoolboy friend married to my sister, after all. And Bridges, while no slouch as a singer and musician, is not quite Bob Dylan.

And neither is Donovan, who drew those inevitable comparisons when he came up through the British folk scene in the Sixties. We mention this because it was on this date in 1965 that Donovan made his U.S. television debut on Shindig!  Looking back at him performing "Catch the Wind" we see a poised young songwriter with a positive vibe that would soon play to his laid-back, flower child persona. We also see some really bad fake trees.

In the chilly hours and minutes
Of uncertainty, I want to be,
In the warm hold of your loving mind

To feel you all around me
And to take your hand, along the sand
Ah, but I may as well try and catch the wind

When sundown pales the sky
I wanna hide a while, behind your smile
And everywhere I'd look, your eyes I'd find

For me to love you now
Would be the sweetest thing, 'twould make me sing
Ah, but I may as well, try and catch the wind

When rain has hung the leaves with tears
I want you near, to kill my fears
To help me to leave all my blues behind

For standin' in your heart
Is where I want to be, and I long to be
Ah, but I may as well, try and catch the wind

A beautiful song by a great artist. But what was it like battling those Dylan comparisons? Donovan gave this thoughtful response in a 2001 interview with BBC:

"The one who really taught us to play and learn all the traditional songs was Martin Carthy—who incidentally was contacted by Dylan when Bob first came to the UK. Bob was influenced, as all American folk artists are, by the Celtic music of Ireland, Scotland and England. But in 1962 we folk Brits were also being influenced by some folk Blues and the American folk-exponents of our Celtic Heritage...

"Dylan appeared after Woodie [Guthrie], Pete [Seeger] and Joanie [Baez] had conquered our hearts, and he sounded like a cowboy at first but I knew where he got his stuff—it was Woodie at first, then it was Jack Kerouac and the stream-of-consciousness poetry which moved him along. But when I heard "Blowing In The Wind" it was the clarion call to the new generation – and we artists were encouraged to be as brave in writing our thoughts in music...We were not captured by his influence, we were encouraged to mimic him—and remember every British band from the Stones to the Beatles were copying note for note, lick for lick, all the American pop and blues artists—this is the way young artists learn.

"There's no shame in mimicking a hero or two—it flexes the creative muscles and tones the quality of our composition and technique. It was not only Dylan who influenced us—for me he was a spearhead into protest, and we all had a go at his style. I sounded like him for five minutes—others made a career of his sound. Like troubadours, Bob and I can write about any facet of the human condition. To be compared was natural, but I am not a copyist."

That's good enough for me. So is "Catch the Wind," which Donovan completes in five verses without a bridge, just a short harmonica flourish. I'm halfway home.

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