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Customer Review

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars All you need is love. Talent's good too, 5 Oct. 2009
This review is from: The Hurdy Gurdy Man (Paperback)
Like a lot of cynics, at heart I'm an aging hippy. So you won't be surprised to learn that I've actually seen Donovan live several times. He attracts an audience roughly split between 20-somethings who are discovering his music for the first time and people who clearly saw him first time round. There's a lot of hair and sandals.

Donovan himself comes across as a really pleasant man, and takes the time to talk to his fans, which should surprise no one. But people who don't know him are often surprised by just how remarkably talented a musician he is. An example: during one of the concerts, a string snapped in the middle of a song. Rather than stop, get a new guitar and start again, he improvised a tune on the remaining strings while he replaced the broken string, all the while telling a story about his time in India with the Beatles. Once the string was repaired and tuned, he slipped seamlessly back into the song at the point where he'd left.

He comes across in this autobiography in much the same way: not as a drippy hippy, though he can be both hippy and drippy, but as a fundamentally nice guy who really cares about his music. The early chapters, detailing his childhood in Scotland, the family's new life in the South, and his time `dropping out' and living rough in Cornwall, were particularly enjoyable. He makes a good job of capturing the atmosphere of the time and his voice is genuine and unaffected.

Later on, as he becomes famous, you sense occasional flashes of bitterness. Well, perhaps more than occasional flashes. Given that, after a couple of years at the top, he disappeared almost as quickly as he'd emerged, and that he's now often regarded as a minor figure in 60s musical circles, a little bitterness is understandable. Nonetheless his tendency to remind us that he was the first person to fuse X and Y musical strands, that song Z was a major influence on the Beatles, or that album A sold however many copies or spent however many weeks in the chart can be a little much at times. Some people might find the diversions into 60s hippy philosophy - Zen, karma, unlocking your higher consciousness with drugs and meditation etc - a wee bit pretentious, but then others will no doubt lap it up.

He chooses to end the biography with the close of the 60s, which saw him turn his back on the music industry and finally get it together with the love of his life. Perhaps this is wise. But I'd actually have liked to find out more about his later life. There's a common story here - the unpretentious, genuine young man in love with music and life, who finds fame and money, is damaged by it, and comes out older and wiser at the other end. I would have liked to know more about how he recovered from the experience of fame and got back to being unpretentious and genuine again. If indeed he did manage it.

Still, minor quibbles aside, this is a really enjoyable book, an atmospheric slice of the 60s, a morality tale and, as he says, a reminder that, in these dark times, a little of the optimism of that era might come in handy too.
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