“Donovan in Concert” — the album cover.
There are some things that just have to be corrected — but never will be, because they were recorded as they are, and will be replayed as they are, as long as there are devices capable of playing them.
“Donovan in Concert” is a long-time favorite of mine. The singer-songwriter recorded it at the Anaheim Convention Center on September 23, 1967. It was released the following year, and some months after that, a teacher of mine — I want to say it was a social studies teacher, although is seems more like something an English teacher would do — wanted us to sit quietly and write creatively for an hour. Or maybe it was study for an hour. I don’t know. In any case, he wanted us to be in a contemplative state, and he played this album. I found it so conducive to the state of thoughtful attention that I ran out and bought it on vinyl.
A few years back, one of my daughters gave me an extended version on CD, and I transferred the sound files to my computer — and thenceforth my phone and tablet.
So I was listening to it today, and was once again really bothered by this spoken intro to the song “Widow with a Shawl (A Portrait).” If you want to go listen to it, it’s technically at the end of the preceding track, “Guinevere:”
This next song, you must imagine, takes place in the 18th century, in England somewhere. This song tells the story of a young lady who is lamenting her lover who has gone to sea. This is in the days of the sailing ships, and when they went to sea, they went away for a long time — 25 years, maybe 30 years. Well, this is a widow — she supposes she’s a widow — and she’s walking along the beach. And this is her song.
Now, I don’t know in which universe English sailing ships went away for 25-30 years, but it wasn’t this one. There was nowhere to go that took that long, even with lengthy stops to refurbish and repair the ship. The survivors of the first expedition to circumnavigate the globe, two centuries earlier, returned after three years. Yes, whalers sometimes deliberately stayed out for years, but by “years,” I mean two or three or four. And occasionally, exceptionally unlucky sailors would be on their way home after a couple of years out, and get pressed into a Royal Navy ship and go out for another year or two.
I suppose there would be cases of a ship that returned to its former port after 25 or 30 years — but it would have been captured by hostile forces, renamed, lived a whole separate life or two or three, been recaptured, and returned as an entirely different ship (having been refurbished multiple times in everything but the bare hull, and much of that repaired), with a different crew, having been through many other crews in the intervening years.
This widow is indeed a widow, and if she expects to have children, much less grandchildren, to comfort her in her old age, she need apply to the authorities to have her man declared dead, and start over. Her man reminds me of something the fictional Jack Aubrey said of Ulysses — he utterly dismissed his excuses for taking 10 years to get home from Troy to Ithaca. Men turned to swine, indeed — it was nothing more than malingering in port, and poor seamanship.
Now that that’s settled, there’s another error that’s been bothering me, although not as long.
In the double disc of live music by The Beatles on the BBC (the first one, not the one just released), a BBC host introduces a song by saying:
The Beatles… with Paul McCartney paying tribute to the Everlys with ‘Lucille.’
It is followed, of course, by Paul doing his best to impersonate Little Richard.
Why the Beatles didn’t stop right there to correct the guy, I don’t know. Why the people who packaged this album used that bit of introduction, I don’t know. But it really, really bugs me that every time someone plays the track, the guy will say that, and will stand uncorrected.
Yes, the Everly Brothers also covered “Lucille,” but it sounded like this — nothing at all like the original. It’s somnolent, morose-sounding by comparison.
Paul McCartney is most definitely, most assuredly, not paying tribute to the Everlys.
OK, now I’ve done my bit to set those things straight. Makes be feel slightly better.
I find errors such as these inexcusable. Yes, I’m well acquainted with errors, and have made a few in my day, with some of them appearing in print. But that was in daily journalism, when there was barely time to write something in stream of consciousness, and no one had more than a very few minutes to check behind you. I am less patient with errors in monthly magazines, and not at all forgiving of them in books.
After 46 years, of course, the Donovan error is an artifact, and to change it would be to change who he was. One can accept it as valid evidence of the dizzy romanticism of Flower Power, which means it does communicate something that was true.
But I’m still glad I set it straight.