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The Tao of Donovan (in a Las Vegas penthouse)

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Sixties pop icon Donovan is holding onto the ‘60s with both hands and a deep “ohm.”
Photo: Scott Den Herder

Back in the day, Donovan’s questionable musical skills were more than compensated for by his pixie perfect folkie look that was the dream of a generation of women. These days he is plumper and his hair thinner, but he still has the ego to place a gigantic pillow under his butt to hoist himself a few inches above my 5’ 6” of height. This is before he starts speaking to the value of selfless meditation.

There is something horrible about the way boomers have idealized their childhood. Vietnam did not stop Iraq. Free love ended with AIDS. Experimenting with drugs resulted in many deaths and a huge recovery industry. But while the myths of the ‘60s may be dramatic examples of assumptions unexamined, the ‘60s undoubtedly did produce great music like the Beatles, Bob Dylan and Donovan. Ok, that last one was a joke. There was a time when he was called Britain’s Dylan, but you would have to travel far and wide to find anyone with kind words these days to say about “Sunshine Superman,” “Mellow Yellow,” or “Hurdy Gurdy Man.” The Beatles and Dylan developed an irony in their music that was always beyond the heart-on-sleeve sincerity of Donovan.

The Tao of Donovan

Maybe that is why Donovan in conversation emphasizes the spiritual contributions of his generation more than the musical. Spiritual contributions? Yes, you remember the Yogi, having a guru, a mantra and transcendental meditation. That was part of the ‘60s, too. And, if you think that is as passé as bell bottoms, talk to Donovan.

His Mirage Penthouse is outfitted with a picture of the Yogi and meditation is still a crucial element of his life. In fact, he considers meditation the key gift of the ‘60s. To this point Donovan is in Vegas at a convention of Beatles fans to commemorate a trip to India 40 years ago. In 2008, at the Mirage Las Vegas in a Penthouse Suite, Donovan can still vividly recall the trip he made with the Beatles, Mia Farrow and others to explore Eastern mysticism. This was the period when the Beatles wrote many of the songs on the White Album, and though Donovan admits the Beatles didn’t need his help for that part of the trip, he did author a line of “Yellow Submarine.” Donovan also insists he helped the Beatles get spiritually hip. In fact, he helped the Western world discover meditation.

Meanwhile, the fans beneath the Penthouse suite at Mirage are hardly acting very spiritual. Organizer Mark Lapidos estimates that the convention, The Fest for Beatles Fans 2008, has attracted about 3,000 fans of the Fab Four. The crowd is mostly people in their 60s fondly remembering the ‘60s. They wear expensive watches, they slurp big drinks, they play trivia games, they rummage through expensive Beatles memorabilia, and they explain to bored kids what it was like back then. In fact, I didn’t see a single person meditate or discuss meditating besides Donovan. There was no meditation room at the convention.

Rather, these are the sort of geek fans who know everything about the Beatles. They ignore how Lennon loathed them and wanted them to move on: “I don’t believe in Beatles…The dream is over,” he once sang. But at the Mirage for the past three days the dream was definitely not over.

When I am getting ready to leave the Mirage, organizer Lapidos stops me to say that there is a “big surprise” I must stay for. “It is too big for me to tell you in case it doesn’t happen.” I wait for a while, thinking there might actually be something worth waiting for. The BBC recently unearthed a decades old interview with the Beatles, and I vaguely hope that the convention had managed to score a recording of that. It has not been heard in my lifetime.

While I wait, I watch Pattie Boyd on stage in the main room. The one-time husband to George Harrison and then Eric Clapton discusses her time with the Beatles. She was also on the trip to India, and Donovan had told me the two keep in touch, that he had seen her earlier in the afternoon. Boyd was being peppered with questions about the men in her life while the interviewer desperately avoided obvious words like adultery that Boyd’s autobiography makes clear so defined the situations she was in at the time. Her answers were stilted, and when Donovan walks on stage to say, “Hello” to her, she seems relieved. Donovan then begins his stage talk and Boyd slides off to do a book signing.

Labidos approaches me smiling ear to ear: “Did you see that. Wasn’t that amazing! That was history.”

“What?” I ask

“Donovan and Pattie Boyd together; do you know how many years it has been?”

“I think Donovan told me they met up this afternoon.”

“But not on stage! This was the first time on stage together in who knows how long!” Lapidos is clearly frustrated by my failure to grasp the significance, but that seems to always be the case when the boomers remember their ‘60s, every bit of trivia is precious. Even the day in Vegas that Donovan stood on stage with George Harrison’s ex-wife. I think I will meditate on that.

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Richard Abowitz

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