Surprising news: there is now a second volume of Donovan's autobiography, and you can download the first part of an audio version for free from his official website here. (The image above is a screengrab.)
Will it also be published in book form? There is no indication on the website. The freebie seems to be a marketing ploy (and why not?), as we're told each instalment relates to a particular album - the first is Brother Sun, Sister Moon - also available for purchase via the website.
The first part of Donovan's autobiography didn't get universally good reviews, but the most surprising thing about it was that the seventies weren't really covered: it ended, really, with his being reunited with Linda Lawrence, and there was no indication that there would be another volume. That first book is highly readable – Donovan’s tranformation into a major musical figure is a fascinating story, after all – and sections like his account of the casual beatnik lifestyle in Cornwall are enormously entertaining.
But despite a strong page-turning quality, occasionally it feels like details have been omitted or insufficiently expanded. His eventual reuniting with Linda Lawrence is the overall arc of the book; perhaps as a consequence, other relationships seem to be given short shrift. And when you consider who our troubadour kept company with at the height of Flower Power isn’t there a more complex, contradictory tale - or at least an extra anecdote or three - waiting to come out?
A documentary series on his life some years ago on Radio 2, narrated by Donovan himself, hinted at problems in coming to terms with his life in the 70s or 80s. This book sidesteps that by effectively ending early, despite a cursory nod to the present day at the end. The upbeat nature of his telling of his tale is perhaps of a piece with the uplifting naivety of his best work, but you do feel there is more to be told, whether by Donovan himself or a biographer; Donovan's talent as a songwriter certainly merits further exploration.
I will report back on the first instalment of Part Two once I've heard it. If you're a Donofan, you may be interested in a few other posts on this blog. This is the main one:
The TRUE story of how I fell out of love with Donovan
I've now heard the download, and on the strength of that first instalment of Part Two the criticisms which have been made about the book could also apply here. The claims he makes about his influence are not altogether unjustified although you do rather wish he didn't make them directly himself. And the voice which can be hypnotic in concert - maybe less so now, but once on a time - doesn't seem that well suited for speaking to us up close in intimate fashion. Against that there is the music: you hear a few clips of song, though not that many.
Some intriguing incidents: he goes, in his "romantic rags", to meet Peter Scott at the RAF Club, I think he says, to offer his services as a sort of Youth Ambassador for the World Wildlife Fund - or something like that. (I only listened to it once and didn't make notes.) Scott tells him he's bitten off more than he can chew and Don goes back to changing the world through song - much wiser. But I would dearly love to read Peter Scott's account of that day.
But it's easy to snipe. If that music has sustained you then you have to make a pathway for yourself through the tale. If it came out as a book I would read it, though I probably wouldn't want to pay for it. And maybe it's simply a more extreme version of the narratives that we all invent in order to sustain ourselves.
Here's a short extract from an interview with Ralph McTell for a Donovan fanzine - the whole piece is here.
One of the great charms about Don is this great openness , and this belief - and you might even say this trust that he puts in people…….that don't merit it quite often. He's such a kind man - he really is. He knows his worth and he knows his talent and he knows his value - but he's very trusting.
[...] The documentary A Boy Called Donovan [is] still how I see Don really - the belief in the music and all those strange Celtic myths that still permeate his work - and that's where his time is I think, and he has to constantly try and force that belief through all the modern hurly-burly and the reality thing - and that's a hard road to hoe.