From “Mellow Yellow” to Transcendental Meditation with David Lynch
By Simon McCormack
It’s been more than 40 years since Donovan Phillips Leitch was riding the wave of “Mellow Yellow” and 11 other top 40 smashes.
“Mellow” was as popular for its psychedelic intangibles as it was for the speculation surrounding its meaning. Whether the track was about smoking banana peels, using a yellow vibrator or something entirely less far-out, the song optimized the Scottish singer-songwriter’s ability to make trip-pop for the masses.
Even so, his days of hobnobbing with Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and The Beatles are long gone. What has this folk-pop icon been up to over the last four decades?
While he continued to make records during the ’70s and early ’80s, Donovan’s ability to sell them was brought into doubt. The singer-songwriter hardly fit into the punk rock scene and as Donovan's record sales dropped, his live performances became sporadic.
By the ’90s, the tide turned back in Donovan’s favor with the release of a tribute album on Vancouver's Nettwerk label, and later, a Sony box set. Donovan got the assistance of an unlikely fan: Def Jam Records co-founder Rick Rubin, who financed Donovan’s 1996 release, Sutras. It gained its fair share of critical praise.
Whether the track was about smoking banana peels or something entirely less far-out, “Mellow Yellow” optimized the Scottish singer-songwriter’s ability to make trip-pop for the masses.
In 2004, Donovan released Beat Café, his latest disc, but his career has taken an unexpected turn of late with his promotion of Transcendental Meditation.
Donovan tours the country with filmmaker David Lynch promoting the twice-daily meditation practice, which, according to its proponents, has a hodgepodge of positive effects on your noodle. His belief in the technique runs so deep that last year Donovan announced plans to build the Invincible Donovan University in Scotland. The institution of higher learning will instruct its pupils in the art of Transcendental Meditation and promote its use in the world’s educational systems.
With all of his transcendental meanderings, Dr. Donovan—who was given an honorary Doctor of Letters degree from the University of Hertfordshire in 2003—doesn’t have much time for touring, but he does play a few shows here and there. One of them is in Santa Fe this week.
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