All the gray at the Ventura Theatre this Saturday night won’t be ubiquitous rock ‘n’ roll smoke. Rather, it will be the heads of the middle-aged audience who will stay up past their bedtimes to check out that aging flower child, Donovan.
Actually, the Scottish folk singer probably is holding up a lot better than some in his audience. The last time he played Ventura (back in ’87 or so) he looked pretty much the same as in his heyday, and his voice was better than ever.
Most of the former flower children in the audience have since undergone the change. The “h” in hippies has sagged along with their waistlines into a “y” for yuppies. All things groovy are a long time gone, except for Donovan.
And he had so many hits in the ‘60s that he doubtlessly still has enough fans and sufficient royalty money that he doesn’t have to go away and come back as someone else. He could even afford to use his last name (Leitch) should he care to.
Once compared to Bob Dylan, Donovan was always the one that could sing better, plus he was very nice. A gentle protest singer, Donovan was always the Mr. Rogers of the hell-no-we-won’t-go set during the ‘60s. Although the Vietnam War might not have been good for anyone except arms merchants, it did make for a lot of memorable protest songs.
Donovan’s anti-war biggie, “Universal Soldier,” was written by Buffy Saint-Marie. Since the bad old days of Vietnam, Donovan has been active in support of Amnesty International and No-Nukes.
Donovan first appeared on the music scene in 1965, back when even LBJ was still popular. His debut single, “Catch the Wind” made it to No. 23 on the Billboard charts--the album made it all the way to No. 30. “Sunshine Superman” from the following year was a No. 1 single.
And there were plenty of other hits too--"Colours,” “Mellow Yellow,” “There Is a Mountain,” “Jennifer Juniper,” “Lalenya,” “Wear Your Love Like Heaven” and like that. His song “Hurdy Gurdy Man” was written about the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who at the time was interpreting the Meaning Of It All to Donovan, four Beatles, a Beach Boy and Mia Farrow.
Besides all the flashback tunes reminding the crowd of the days when even they were cool, Donovan will also offer some new ones. Although he went away from the radio (except for “oldies radio” where he lives long and prospers), Donovan has never really quit performing.
He has refused numerous offers to join one of those English Invasion tours, and instead performs solo, just a guy, his guitar and plenty of stories.
One of his funnier stories, much funnier now than it probably was then, concerns his arrest for possession of marijuana. In the mid-'60s, he was the first and most famous musician in England to get busted. Anyway, the “copper” leading the raid made a point of getting Donovan’s autograph for his daughter.
There was always a certain ethereal quality to Donovan’s music and lyrics--you almost expect flowers to sprout everywhere and maybe even a flyover from Tinkerbell. The producers messed up--Donovan would have been perfect doing the theme for “Beauty and the Beast.”
He’s as innocuous as Santa Claus, but skinnier, and he sings much better. Expect a lot of sing-alongs Saturday night.