Barabajagal; or, That Time Donovan Healed My Broken Arm

Lately I’ve been reminded of my love for the songs of Donovan. Whatever genre(s) you consider him to fall in, he’s an outlier for me with his folkrockjazz/stonedpop/
meditatingmystical vibes. Yet several of his songs live permanently on my iPod. I even love ‘I Love My Shirt.’

Plus: what a cutie.
Plus: what a cutie.

Donovan also ticks a rare box in being a star who I met before I knew much of his catalog. For complicated but fortunate reasons, I got taken along to a small press gathering he organized around the time of his 2012 induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. I’d only heard the odd 60s hit of his then, plus the fact that he’d been in India with the Beatles. But that last bit was enough for me to play plus-one.

The key concept here is that a month or so earlier I’d clumsily tripped in a cinema and broken a bone in my left elbow. It was about as unserious a serious injury as you could sustain – a ‘non-displaced fracture,’ really a glorified crack. “Use it normally as long as it doesn’t hurt too much,” the orthopedist counseled me. “Just DON’T reinjure it.” They didn’t give me a cast: simple, but leaving me hyperconscious of it, my dominant hand dangling in a sling and every other commuter just there to whack it with their bag. Still, I’m nothing if not rule-abiding, so I went slingless whenever I could stand it and got jittery if anyone passed on the left.

I dressed up for the press event and left my sling nervously in my bag. Smiling, soft-spoken Donovan gave a short interview about his career and pulled out his gorgeous green antler’d guitar to offer peaceful acoustics on half a dozen songs.

See? Antlers.
See? Antlers.

Then roughly 40 people adjourned to a classy reception where, in the unpredictable dynamic of medium-sized parties, Donovan and I got triangled into a corner, and he chatted with me for most of ten minutes despite not knowing me from Adam.

He was entirely lovely and I have no idea what he said. I was lost in the spell. The whole time we stood there, Donovan rested his right hand very lightly on my injured elbow, the way one does at a loud party if one is comfortable in one’s skin. Or if one is a wizard. I managed to quell the butterflies. I’m sure he’d’ve moved his hand if I’d indicated discomfort, but I was feeling no pain.

The crowd shifted; others approached; I used my right hand to shake hands, and that was about it. And my left arm never needed the sling again.

There’s a clear scientific answer here. The cracked bone had healed; my tension was the only symptom I was having; Donovan accidentally showed me that I didn’t have to be so uneasy in a crowd; I got over it.

But what kind of fun is that, when the person we’re talking about is the guy who wrote this?

Who declares that the question is the answer, without worry or warning?

Who one-ups ‘Hey Jude’ with words like antediluvian?

Who, when the Intergalactic Laxative hits the fan, comes singing songs of love?

Nifty rhythm & blues connection: Recently Donovan and his grandson Joolz Leitch worked with the Master Musicians of Jajouka in Morocco, a musical tradition that many people think was introduced to the mainstream by Brian Jones. Cool, huh?

Nifty 1950s UK domestic life connection: I highly recommend Donovan’s memoir The Hurdy Gurdy Man if you like windows into mid-century Brit/Scots working-class culture and the folk and blues booms.

I can’t leave this without my all-time favorite Donovan song. Don’t let the changes get you uptight.

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