When I had the opportunity to see Donovan Leitch perform and be interviewed at LA’s Grammy Museum in honor of his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I expected a fascinating interview and a great performer, but I had no idea that I might get the chance to ask this legendary singer-songwriter of the 1960s and 1970s a few questions myself. The evening itself was excellent, but the real excitement was to come later, when while walking back to where my family’s car was parked, I saw a man carrying Donovan’s guitar case (which we had seen earlier) into a restaurant with none other than Tommy Smothers.
After some cursory decisionmaking, I decided to go in and introduce myself to the man– Donovan’s manager– who then introduced me to Donovan himself. During my brief meeting with this genuinely nice and down-to-earth performer, who informed me that he had written a song called Lily once, but that it was for his cat, I managed to score a five-question interview over email– this is the direct transcript.
LA: I think that one of the major reasons I am drawn to music so much before pmy time is perhaps what seems to me to be the more organic nature of it– stars weren’t made by American Idol or Youtube, and music didn’t have to be digitally corrected before it was considered finished. What do you think has been lost with music in the digital age? What has been gained?
DL: Music has lost nothing, it is always rising up from the deep wells within us. All new composers need to do is practice the forms with dedication. The forms are folk and blues and their children, pop and rock.
LA: Do you think that in this time, it is still possible to find poetry in music?
DL: Poetry and Music were one and they were separated. My generation re-united them. New poets need to practice the forms—the forms are lyric and free verse .
LA: Its position has obviously changed over the years– do you fear it is becoming obsolete, or that it ever possibly could?
DL: New poets need to study William Butler Yeats’ early poetry of Myth & Magic. Poetry is the language of the invisible world and always exists.
LA: In so much of your music, you express what was actually going on in the world– for instance, “From Susan On the West Coast Waiting.” How important do you think social consciousness is in popular music?
DL: New composers should reflect current events more often. Personal songs of love and relationships are always dominant though.
LA: Transcendental Meditation has played a huge part in your music. Nowadays, it seems as if the only kind of spirituality that can be found in popular music is in so-called “Christian Rock.” Do you feel that spirituality is an essential part of music?
DL: In traditional cultures the Shaman Poet Musician leads the society to the Realm Within through storytelling, chant and vision. Music is the invisible sound that calls the tribe to transcend. The Great Religions of the Passing Epoch have lost their efficacy and a New Form is emerging to suit the New Age being born. Read Joseph Campbell to see where we are in the transition.
LA: Lastly, how is it possible for you to stay passionate about a song forty years later? Do you think that forty years ago, you expected that you still would be?
DL: The songs I sing are archetypal and are not limited to my own life experience. The song is singing of all our lives, and so I am not reliving an earlier experience, I am echoing the drama of relationships that we all share. The song is ever young and wise.
I hope these replies are able to enlighten your readers to the Poet’s Role in Societies in the past, now and in all futures.