WORDS BY LJ/DRAWING BY JEN
Donovan went to Rishikesh with the Beatles, so I trust him. If you’re a cool/”out there”/”spiritually aware” enough guy that the Beatles were like “Okay, yeah. Yes. We want you to join us on our meditation trip to an ashram in India PS we’re the BEATLES the actual BEATLES this is a HISTORIC EVENT and we want you, YOU- you, Donovan- to join us,” you’re definitely okay by me. That speaks very highly of a person’s character, as far as I’m concerned.
Since I was 7 no maybe 9 I’ve always kind of loved Donovan- for “Atlantis,” “Sunshine Superman,” “Hurdy Gurdy Man” (But not “Mellow Yellow,” never “Mellow Yellow”- the other day Jenn and I were standing outside a church and a wacky old hippie wearing a chamois shirt unbuttoned down to his belly button told us about a bar we’d “dig” where the people are all “really mellow yellow” and that’s “Mellow Yellow” to me. YUCK)- but it’s only been a year since these songs have lived in my hands.
I talked to September about which Donovan songs are best to listen to inside of it and September nailed it down for me. These are the songs September chose.
RIKI TIKI TAVI
I ignored “Riki Tiki Tavi” for most of my life because it embarrassed me. It’s a song about a mongoose, and I’m a grown-ass woman.
“Riki Tiki Tavi” sounds like the first day of school, which I’m guessing is the nascence of all this “Donovan For September” business I’m going on about- the extent to which it this song is, exactly, the feeling of the first day of school. It’s the smell of a plastic lunchbox and meat and cheese on a sandwich together. It’s an apple juicebox. It started working very early one morning last September and then it stayed working all year and now it’s September again and it’s working harder than ever. I really like Donovan album tracks; he’s the king of offering up album tracks that are just, like, “How could an album track be this good?” His songs… he’s definitely more of a songs guy than an albums guy. He only has one good album, like, great album, start-to-finish- Open Road, from 1970, and this one’s on it. Otherwise, he wasn’t very good at the concept of, like, tracking an album. I think it’s cute how it took him all the way until 1970 to figure out albums the way the Beatles and all the other guys had been doing it for years.
The guitars at the beginning sound so chipper, so clear. I think it’d be a very good song for the opening of a movie and when I hear it it do feel like I’m walking through the opening scenes of a movie about my life- the most boring movie ever made! So clear, so fresh, mild as May. If he didn’t record this song in a September, he must have recorded this song in a May: the September of spring. Donovan and a cowbell player bouncing their knees up and down on a clearing in a clear day jungle. Maybe it wasn’t a cowbell. Maybe it was a wooden block.
The song ends with a part that sounds nothing like any other part of the song and I like to time it against my life so it’s the last thing I hear before walking into my work, leaving a good taste in my mouth for the first chunk of what can never be anything but a deeply brutal evening. Donovan stretches his voice out and raises it up to falsetto, sings, I saw you today on the number 12 bus, you were going my way and it sounds like an ending, does whatever it does that makes something sound like an ending, bangs the gong against whichever lobe of our little brains that makes music be able to do that, makes a person be able to write that, and it’s me, that line- for a year that line of this song has always been me to myself, the number 12 bus functioning as a metaphor for wherever I happen to be, wherever it is, it’s always somewhere as bleak and shitty-sounding as the number 12 bus-
It’s nice to pretend that someone’s watching me. To someone, you’ll always be the most beautiful girl he’s ever seen.
HI IT’S BEEN A LONG TIME
I hate when people call Donovan “Britain’s Answer to Bob Dylan”- I just don’t think it’s true.
Donovan is a good man with a gentle soul, and I would punch someone in the face if they punched him in the face. But I wish I could punch Bob Dylan in the face. I have this thing about Bob Dylan, and also Serge Gainsbourg is included in my wish- I wish I could punch them both really hard in their weird moon-nosed rat fucking faces. In my soul I hold A TON of hatred toward both these men, which messes with my ability to enjoy their music which is obviously on some level great. And I think that if I punched them both, and hurt them- made their noses bleed- I could purge myself of all that pointless anger and fully enjoy their great music. I’d be like BAM “That’s for sexism!” BAM “She makes love just like a woman but cries just like a little girl is so fucked up and gross” BAM “EW” BAM “I can’t believe Jane Birkin fucked you, you’re such a rat” BAM BAM BAM etc and then I would be free. Yeah!
Donovan is Britain’s answer to nobody. All he has in common with Bob Dylan is that they both play sing and guitar. They’re two curly-haired dudes who sing and play guitar and occasionally harmonica. Everything else about them is worlds apart: Donovan wears a flower crown and sings songs about fairies, fair maidens, brooks, meadows, the weather and magic. Bob Dylan is a novel about a shrew written by Jack Kerouac who hasn’t bathed in three days. If Donovan’s going to be Britain’s answer to Bob Dylan, than Donovan is also Britain’s answer to any guy in the world who plays guitar and isn’t British, which is a pointless thing to think about. If anybody’s got to be anywhere’s answer to anything, Bob Dylan is the Serge Gainsbourg of Minnesota.
“Hi It’s Been A Long Time” is a song about running into someone who you used to be in love with a few years since you broke up and still loving them sort of, but only in homage to the way it used to be. Mostly, you’re indifferent- but Donovan is so nice about his indifference! If ever in life I’m indifferent, I usually just let it spill over into hatred, because I’m a jerk. But Donovan, nah- he tells the girl she’s lookin’ good, she’s lookin’ proud as any woman should be, proud of womanhood – he’s a feminist! He says he feels it would be pretty to touch her. He says pretty in so many songs, your pretty hair he says in “Ferris Wheel.” Everything is pretty to Donovan. Donovan is pretty too.
This song is Piano Lessons Pretty like “Martha My Dear” and “Oh! You Pretty Things.” It’s a strand of pink pearls, figurines of ceramic glossy girls perched atop your abuelita’s armoire, a dusty rose velvet pincushion, etc. All that sweet stuff. It’s “Penny Lane,” if “Penny Lane” were a Christmas song. The string arrangement sounds like the smell of snow.
I dance to this song with my shoulders and make my eyes big and open my mouth like I’m coquettishly shocked and then it kicks in a bit more and I can’t help but tap my old foot.
I listen to this song to jack myself up. I work out to it a lot. I just had this moment of being like “Ooohh I feel like I synaesthetically associate it with the color magenta oh that’s so perfect, find me one writer in the world who doesn’t feel cool about namedropping synaesthesia in writing” and then I was like “Oh my god I’m so stupid THE WORD MAGENTA IS IN THE TITLE OF THE SONG” and so there you go: my point is, none of the synaesthesias. I don’t know, I don’t know. It’s just the catchiest jam ever. It kind of reminds me of jam, actually, jam the food. Magenta jam.
Once I was hanging out with a person in my bedroom playing a playlist of “songs I like right now” on my iTunes. This song came on, and it sounded so gangly and silly heard through someone else’s ears. I like so much fey wacky music that sounds like a puppet show to people who aren’t used to fey and wacky music. It’s the worst feeling, playing a song you love for a person who thinks it’s lame.
So I fibbed about the reality of my relationship to it, as if it were 1999 and “Beautiful Stranger” by Madonna all over again. I sold it as a “guilty pleasure” to my houseguest, and that’s SO lame of me. If I could live my whole life over again, I would have owned it that night- I am not a "Maria Magenta" apologist.
There’s a part in the middle of the song that’s really lame. It’s a little instrumental breakdown, and then Donovan yee-haws. Half yee-haws half yodels: “WHEE-YA-HOO! COME ON, MAMA! WHOOP WHOOP WHOOP!” That day in my bedroom with a person, I felt the need to talk really loud overtop of it, as if to protect Donovan from someone else’s judgment. I don’t like the idea of anyone ever thinking any negative thoughts about Donovan ever. And hearing someone saying mean things about Donovan would feel like walking down the hallway of an animal shelter, smelling kibble and wanting to save all the woebegon dogs who’ve had way rougher lives than I have, knowing there’s nothing I could do to fix it.
HOUSE OF JANSCH
"House of Jansch" is the coolest song a cool person ever wrote for cool people to hear while feeling cool on a cool day when it was cool outside. It’s so cool.
It sways back and forth like a cool person waiting at a bus stop, leaning with their back against the bus shelter and doing some fidgety waiting things with their feet. There’s definitely a brown leather jacket involved, or maybe suede. Toothpicks are being chewed, and everyone’s smirking. Oh, it’s stoned. It’s a stoned song. The swaying and leaning cool person is high.
I write a lot of stories about a woman named Samantha Silver and “House of Jansch” is her favorite. She loves Donovan so much, and if someone asked her why she’d just shrug and say, “Because his songs sound the best to me,” and anyone in the world would have to admit that that’s a logical reason. “House of Jansch” isn’t my favorite song of all time but it’s definitely up there, and I definitely believe that I’d be a cooler person in general if it was. Sometimes the guitars are so scratchy they are literally hay.
The lyrics are the fucking coolest. I wish I’d thought of most of them; I’m so jealous I didn’t. “I’m so jealous of Donovan!” ← ha! that’s me right now. What a weird and lame strange thought to think. Hashtag “problems that are uniquely my own”- Hey guys my name’s Laura Jane and I’m really jealous of the unpopular sixties singer Donovan Leitch because he wrote
-“Get it straight, I love the both of you” (cool)
-“Girl ain’t nothin’ but a willow tree” (such a beautiful way to diminish someone!)
-“I love another is what I sigh”- (and then he SIGHS!)
-“It looks like rain, I do declare/Your baby wants to take my chocolate éclair” (éclair and declare rhyme. Did you ever think about that?)
-“I couldn’t cry/I could not laugh/Incident about a silken scarf” (what do you think the incident was? I wish I knew.)
& most importantly…
“Sometimes I don’t know what I said ‘til I did/I want to be the father of your kid,”
which is my favorite sentence, out of all the sentences. Put that one on my gravestone, please. Save that one for my gravestone.
At work sometimes the sous-chef engages me in the sort of conversation I’ve spent my whole life wishing someone would engage me in. She asks the questions you’d be asked if you were Kirsten Dunst being interviewed by Seventeen magazine in 1997, the kind of questions I grew up believing everyone grew up to be asked by everyone, questions that are surfacey but personal, questions that a person who believes that nobody in the world gives a fuck about anybody needs to be asked to be reminded that she’s wrong. Questions like “What are your hobbies?” and “How long was your longest relationship?” and “What do you look for in a man?” So great! It’s such a weird challenge to take everything the answers to those questions could be for me in words and put all those dumb words aside and answer them like an ordinary person.
When the sous-chef asked me what I looked for in a man, I could only think to tell her what I didn’t. Every person standing in the kitchen that day now knows I think blond guys look like newborns, that I’ve done musicians to death. I know exactly what I’m looking for in a man but can only articulate it to people who’ve heard the song “Teen Angel” by Donovan and I am quite confidant my sous-chef hasn’t. I am 100% sure she doesn’t even know who Donovan is, because why the fuck should she? When I was young I used to resent people for not having heard of Donovan or “Savoy Truffle” or Song Cycle by Van Dyke Parks or whatever, because I was young. When you grow up you really realize “to each his own.” It’s a nice place to be at, not caring so much about those emblems of subculture- relationships get way more interesting when you don’t have all the same tastes in things. There are thirty ingredients in mole sauce, and I can name three of them.
All I want is a dude who’s “easy” in the way that Donovan means it in “Teen Angel,” when he sings All the boys in the neighbourhood would love you if they could, but I’m easy- I want the easy person, and I want Handle it if you can, ‘cause it’s easy- I want to handle an easy thing. And more than anything, I want All the boys as you look about may be funny to work out, but I’m easy- I want an easy quiet man who gives me quiet easy moments that when I think back to them will always ensure that I hear that this song was playing cosmically in the background- it’s the most beautiful love song I’ve ever heard, and it’s bullshit trying to think of new ways to explain this any further, because it’s easy:
I’d rather die than live without the most beautiful love song I’d ever heard, and I think that anyone who wouldn’t doesn’t understand what living is.
CATCH THE WIND
For the first time in so long there’s a man in my life whose smile I can hide behind, and he has eyes, and they’re really nice, but less nice than his lips and pores. I’m all about his lips and pores, but his eyes… there’s that song about how if you wanna know if he loves you so it’s in his kiss, but in real life it’s way easier than that. All you have to do is look at his eyes.
All you have to do is walk into a room and see him see you. You are not in control of what his face does and neither is he. Five days a week I get to see what his face does when he sees me and then I walk around the room lighting candles and grinning. Last night he saw me grinning while I lit the candles and it was so embarrassing I buried my face in my hands and grinned into my hands and when I looked up from my hands he was still seeing me, grinning back.
For the first time in my entire life I can do that to a person and it’s not because I’m a writer who knows anything about music and is cool. It’s not because of all the words I say or even because of all the words I don’t- it’s because of whatever happens when I’m standing there. A man in the world exists who can see me just happening and like me for I have absolutely no idea why, and all I have to do is literally nothing.
Hours pass, work is over, and I’m stoned on the subway daydreaming about every time he looked at me and imagining what it’s going to feel like next time, what dumb words I’m going to say that he won’t care are dumb. I’m eating a GingerGold apple stained with red lipstick- golden deluscious- listening to "Catch The Wind" by Donovan because I can’t figure out why I’d rather die than live without it but if I hear it tonight it’ll stay this night forever and that will explain everything. If I can keep it meaning this for all my life I’ll understand it.
I got off the train two stops early and smoked more weed down a street called Prince Arthur Avenue I’d never walked down and listened to "Jigsaw Puzzle" by the Rolling Stones and thought about the way the girl and guitar players have both been outcasts all their lives, in that song. It was a metaphor for nothing til this second. The air was as crisp as the skin of an apple and it didn’t really matter if I wore my cardigan or not. I said the sentence I never said about his cardigan in my head (“You’re wearing a cardigan! It looks so good!”) and looked forward to the next time he wore his cardigan so I could say it then. I walked home listening to “Catch The Wind” over and over and imagined myself as a little figurine standing inside a human heart, grinning and crying, fountains looking like they were crying tears of light which really were just the reflection of the lampposts and meant nothing; it’s all September’s fault. I love this month so much. Apples and joints and the St. George subway station looked like a movie theater from a long time ago and I have a LOT of thoughts to think about rusted over street signs.
Up by the travel agency (with adventure in the name) I ran into an acquaintance I hadn’t seen since March; she asked me what was up. I told her tonight I got off work early and I was stoned and so happy, wandering around the rusted-over fall air smelling copper and pumpkins and grinning my face into halves over the look in his eyes and this song, forever, will always be me in the middle of a sentence realizing oh my God that. I’m happy.