Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Adventures of Donovan

At 15 Donovan Philips Leitch read Jack Kerouac's On the Road, as well as Ginsberg, TS Eliot, Dylan Thomas and William Butler Yeats, while listening to Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie and Miles Davis. He "Dreamed of Zen, of a Beatnik girl and some pot to smoke with her." Inspired by Arthur Rimbaud (Jim Morrison's muse), he headed for London.

In 1963, at the age of 16, he met his longtime collaborator Gypsy Dave and started hanging out with older Beats. In the early days, he says he was "mocked as a simpleton" for singing of birds, bees, and flowers. By Donovan's account in The Autobiography of Donovan, the documentary A Boy Called Donovan which aired in January 1966 nationwide in Britain, showed his "beatnik" lifestyle and attracted the interest of the newly formed British Drug Squad, which made the singer their first high-profile arrest. "I was turning in after a joint with my girlfriend. I had a tiny piece of hash and smoked it all."

A knock was heard at the door and when Donovan's roommate Gypsy Dave asked, "Who is it?" a female voice answered, "It's me." He looked through a curtain and saw a young woman alone. As he opened the door, the policewoman stepped inside and nine "burly coppers" followed her in. They dragged Donovan's naked girlfriend from their bed, tearing the bedspread and destroying other parts of the house looking for drugs. Gypsy was manhandled and when the also-naked Donovan jumped on a cop's back, he was grabbed at the throat in an arm lock and dropped to the floor. Stumbling to the kitchen, coughing, for a drink of milk, it was snatched away from him. "Quick men, the LSD's in the milk," a cop yelled.

They were taken to Marylebone Police Station, booked, fingerprinted and given a cup of tea (only in England!) When they were let out at 4 AM, Sgt. Pilcher asked for an autograph for his daughter. George Harrison called the next morning offering a place to stay, saying "It'll never blow over Don. We'll be next." "I wanted to turn the world on to self-transformation, not drugs," Donovan wrote. But in court, he was admonished as a poor example to youth and fined 250 pounds. 

In Hurdy Gurdy Man he also relates that John Lennon called one day, having gotten a tip that he'd be busted. Donovan and Gypsy Dave went to Lennon's Esher bungalow, where "three pyramids of the best California sinsemilla" were piled on a long glass coffee table. A few minutes after they got rid of it, Sgt. Pilcher showed up at the door with a warrant. Nothing was found and the cops left, with Pilcher threatening, "We'll get you next time." But Gypsy had hidden it in the bottom of the goldfish pond, and with that, they promptly rolled into a "large English joint."