Donovan: "We are
all one shining Being"
In 1965, Donovan, then a nineteen year
old folksinger, entered the British pop charts
with his folk ballad “Catch the Wind”.
He was quickly dubbed “Britain's Bob
Dylan”. In the next five years he produced
many hit singles (Sunshine Superman, Mellow
Yellow, Atlantis etc.) and albums. Pictured
in flowing robes and beads on his 1968 album,
A Gift from a Flower to a Garden, he became
an icon of the times, a symbol of Flower Power.
In the past year he has made a comeback with
a world tour promoting a new album, Sutras.
New Renaissance editors A.V. Avadhuta and
Gary Levinson interviewed him before a concert
in Mainz, Germany.
NR: If you hadn’t have been so famous
before we probably wouldn’t have heard
about this concert, but we have heard your
latest album, Sutras, and it seems to have
a spiritual message.
Donovan: Yes. When I met Rick Rubin, my current
producer, I was looking for a producer with
sympathy, and I found someone who was very
sympathetic. He was also named the “producer
of the year” (1994) by Rolling Stone.
His interests are yoga, vegan diet, Kundalini
yoga. He also has a library of mystical books.
So the most popular producer in the world
met me and we had these spiritual feelings.
He asked me, “What kind of album should
we make?” And I said, “One we
like.” As the album progressed, it became
clear that we should make this kind of album.
Not rock 'n roll, jazz, folk, ethnic, classical
or world music; not go for the pop chart.
So we made this album Sutras and shocked everybody.
NR: You were very prominent in the 1960s and
into the beginning of the 1970s, but then
in the period after that a lot of people do
not know what happened to you.
Donovan: By 1970 I stopped. Six years of fame
was enough. I had done everything. It was
extraordinary, you couldn’t get any
more famous and more successful. I had to
"yin the yang". I was very yang
(outgoing) in the 1960s and then I became
very yin (introverted) in the 1970s and then
I met Linda, my muse and we married and had
children. I made nine albums in the 1970s
but didn’t tour. In the 1980s I disappeared
completely and it must be described as a fairy
tale. Like a legend. The 60s is the young
dreamer, young aspirant going to seek the
spiritual gold, the El Dorado, and then finding
it, finding the goddess, Linda. But I had
to go into the forest. And I went into the
forest and the 1970s was going inside myself
and learning much about myself. I also had
a spiritual path, a personal spiritual path.
But there was a world spiritual path I was
singing about. In the 1980s I went into the
deepest part of the forest and just came out
when the 1990s started. It was difficult,
in a forthcoming book which I am preparing
I will I speak about this period in more details.
It seems like I was gone, but I was there
just going through my changes.
NR: In the early part of your career you recorded
Buffy St. Marie’s anti-war song, The
Universal Soldier. It showed some concern
for society and reflected the times. Today
do you also have a view on society and what
your role might be?
Donovan: When I was 14 or 15 I wanted to be
a protest singer like Pete Seeger and Woody
Guthrie. My father was a socialist and worked
with the unions. I thought change was to change
the government and to change from one system,
capitalism, to socialism and to make the poor
of the world happy. but when I opened the
book The Way of Zen by Alan Watts and I opened
up the Diamond Sutra, and Lao Tsu’s
Tao te Ching, I realized that the problem
of suffering was much deeper than governments
and social problems. The problems were very
deep. They were nothing short of changing
the way we look at reality. Therefore I became
a teacher, or a reflection of the teachings.
Phil Ochs, the great protest singer, said
I had given up protest, and Joan Baez said
to Bob Dylan, “He’s given up protest.”
But what I had given up was looking for the
answer in social change. The change was to
be a spiritual change. The suffering was coming
from an erroneous view of reality which meditation
is teaching. We are one, we are all brothers
and sisters, but the people of the world do
not know this. So this was the teaching, but
how do you teach it? As young people, John
Lennon, George Harrison, myself, Carlos Santana
and other spiritual seekers in pop music,
we wanted to know the answer but we found
a question: How do you convince the rest of
the western world that they are ill, they
are mentally ill, that they have a sickness
and that they have lost the way? How do you
teach that? You cannot teach that in the normal
sense. You have to encourage a spiritual call,
so we devoted ourselves to making songs which
would have a spiritual call inside of them,
hoping to awaken an awareness with this music.
And other people in the arts felt the same,
also in books, New Age writers and many many
others felt this. Today I can’t comment
on what the problem is in China, Russia, or
Africa without realizing again and again the
Diamond Sutra, which says that we look at
the world and see it as separate but in fact,
this is an illusion, but the reality is that
we are one shining being. Until this can be
understood, I can’t see any change.
But I see some change now. There is a world
consciousness. In the "old" New
Age, they talked about the Age of Aquarius
being an age of enlightenment. And now when
a man goes to the moon he sees the earth.
Before when someone did meditation he or she
could meditate on the earth and the moon but
now a man and a woman can see that we are
on one planet and that the water is polluted
and that the air is dirty. So these are changes
that are important. But when we spoke about
these things in the 60s people said we were
dreamers. So, positive, my vibration is positive
NR: Speaking of Sutras, what is the reaction
of the public? You have been on tour one year
with this album.
Donovan: It’s not selling like hotcakes.
50,000 copies, but I don’t think that
it is not good. It is a difficult album to
be sold in the pop world. It is not a pop
album. But it is slowly moving into people’s
collections. My fans, people of my age, and
the young people which is more important.
The young people are discovering it for themselves.
So it is another Donovan album but it has
that feeling that you could listen to it again
and again. It has different levels. At first
when you listen to it is one way, and you
listen to it another time it is another way.
I think it is more like a health product.
You buy some herbs or oil or a video of yoga.
Put on Sutras and you can feel a healing coming
from it, so these things are difficult to
sell en mass.
NR: And your concerts, who comes to them?
Donovan: My fans, people of my age, and then
younger, but from the very first concert I
had in 1965 there were five different age
groups. Young, very young, my age, middle
age, and then old and very old. Somehow my
music attracts all ages.
NR: What methods do you use to realize this
"oneness of all".
Donvovan: It is an understanding that I seem
to have, and as a musician I am a student
of spiritual sound. My friend Romeo, who is
a Nepalese painter of thangka (Buddhist religious
paintings) said that I seem to have the musical
call, I can call people to a spiritual awakening.
This understanding is very deep. You have
to look at it in terms of previous lives.
You don’t learn this in one life. I
don’t teach in the normal way of teaching
meditation, but with certain musical sounds
I can place a listener in an altered state
of consciousness, like a mantra.
NR: Speaking about mantras and chanting, in
1968 you became famous when you went to see
the Maharishi and then you took some instruction
with him. Have you had other teachers or do
you have a specific path which you follow
now for your spiritual development?
Donovan: The Maharishi taught us meditation
and we were interested before that but we
didn’t know how to meditate. From then
on I learned some Tibetan open-eye meditation
and breathing in Boulder, Colorado. Then I
learned some visualization from Celtic mythology.
But mostly I concentrate on the very simple
TM method which is really breathing and a
mantra. As I do this over the years I feel
it enters my life. That is very important
thing which the Maharishi taught us. But Gurudev
taught the Maharishi, but who taught Gurudev?
We go back and back and back until the guru
is the great guru of us all, and then we musicians
hope to gather these forces and harmonize
them through our music. Most of the music
that I have made is still living and moving
through the atmosphere of people’s lives,
and one day in 1983 I said that I do not have
to make anymore music, I should stop because
my music is still moving. But I couldn't stop,
I had to keep on making music for me.
NR: Is that the principal reason you are on
Donovan: To present Sutras. I started in October
of 1996 on radio and television in America
and then in concerts in Europe and America.
I was looking to see what is the best way
to present this music, on radio, TV or in
concerts, but then I realized that what was
happening, was that this was new music which
was fine but what it was representing was
reminding people of feelings that they felt
in my early music. So I am not sure if I am
promoting me, or Sutras. I think I am promoting
the message that comes through me for 30 years
and that Sutras becomes the flagship, but
there are many other ships in the flotilla.
All my songs are saying kind of the same thing.
One artist, I think it was Neil Young, was
asked to sing a song, and he said, “It's
all just one song, but we call them different
songs.” A man’s life and work
is his life of music and so Sutras is kind
of a deep part of it. My next record, I am
not sure what it will be.
NR: How do you feel about playing your early
works and do you have plans for future projects?
Donovan: I have no problem playing my early
works. Some I don't play because I don’t
feel I can do them as well as I did on the
record but most of them I do in concert. My
next project is actually to gather all my
records that are out there in different albums
and bring them into one collection.
This article appeared in New Renaissance,
Volume 7, Number 4. Copyright © 1998
by Renaissance Universal, all rights reserved.
Posted on the web on 5 April, 1998.