In the uncertain times we live in, it’s nice to revisit the past.
That’s exactly what I did this past weekend when I saw folk/psychedelic rock artist and countercultural icon Donovan on Thursday and singer extraordinaire Art Garfunkel (one half of the iconic duo Simon & Garfunkel) on Sunday.
After cancelling his show the night before in New Jersey due to illness, Donovan played a strong two-hour set celebrating the 50th anniversary of “Sunshine Superman.” He played an acoustic guitar the entire time while sitting on a rug in his colorful garb – quintessential Donovan. He performed some of his earlier folk material, including “Catch the Wind,” “Colours,” and “Universal Soldier,” even bringing Brian Jones’ (of the Rolling Stones) grandson on stage to play with him! Later he played most of his big hits like “Hurdy Gurdy Man,” Jennifer Juniper,” “Season of the Witch,” “Mellow Yellow,” “Atlantis,” and more.
Garfunkel, with an accompanying guitarist and pianist, sang some of his solo material, covers, and many classic Simon & Garfunkel songs. Some of those highlights included “Kathy’s Song, “Sound of Silence,” “The Boxer,” “Scarborough Fair,” “April Come She Will,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” and possibly the most beautiful song ever recorded, “For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her.” Incredibly defying the effects of age, Garfunkel sang just as strongly as he did decades ago.
Both artists spoke to the audience in between songs, which made for an intimate experience. Donovan waxed nostalgic of the 60’s and shared stories of hanging out with The Beatles (and contributing to their song “Yellow Submarine”), playing shows with Shawn Phillips, The Who, The Hollies, and more, and of the peace and love he felt back then. He also talked about growing up in Scotland and his family exchanging folk songs, which lead to his performance of the classic folk song “Young but Growing.”
Garfunkel, who is in the process of writing an autobiography, read excerpts to the audience that detailed working with Paul Simon, growing up in Queens, and fatherhood. He also talked fondly of the 60’s and the folk music scene that was happening then.
Of course the 60’s were not all flower power and free love. It was a turbulent time of civil rights struggles, unpopular wars, and culture clashes – much like we are seeing today in 2016. But who is talking about those issues the way Donovan and Simon & Garfunkel did? Where are our generation’s “Wear Your Love Like Heaven” and “The Side of a Hill”?
Yes, we have Kendrick Lamar’s keen social commentary with To Pimp a Butterfly, and Green Day’s political statements entrenched in their latest album Revolution Radio, but I want more of a collective movement to occur. I want more Top 40 songs that make its listeners think, learn, and love. Songs that are not written from the mechanical minds of hired commercial pop writers, but rather from the heart.
But maybe that’s wishful thinking, an idea fading away slowly like one of Donovan’s vintage shirts from India…