Las Vegas Sun

November 19, 2018

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Embracing commercialism

Donovan not ashamed that it’s one way he’s bringing his music to new generation

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What: Donovan, performing at the Fest for Beatles Fans

When: 9 tonight and Tuesday; Fest runs from 2 p.m. to midnight both days

Where: Mirage

Admission: $60 includes concert; 791-7111,,

When you get a moment with a real rock legend, you want to connect.

Given the opportunity for a short phone interview with ’60s veteran Donovan, I spend a few of my precious moments babbling to the Scottish troubadour that my first consciousness of rock music was when my babysitter, Mary Lou Malucci, played her Donovan 45s over and over. Donovan listens graciously as I tell him that I own the boxed-vinyl version of his rare “A Gift From a Flower to a Garden” (he says he’ll sign it for me). And that I sat with Donovan’s family while he premiered his album “Beat Cafe” at San Francisco’s ultracool Cafe du Nord.

Everyone in the newsroom (well, everyone over 40) seems to have something they want me to tell Donovan: My editor chimes in that he visited Cat Island right after Donovan had serenaded guests around a beach fire. A sports reporter points out that he had mentioned Donovan and his hit “Mellow Yellow” just that morning in an article about college football uniforms. And another reporter texts me during the phone interview that he had recently taken his sons to see the Jonas Brothers at the Henderson Pavilion, and wanted Donovan to know that the tween idols encored with “Mellow Yellow.”

Honoring the past — and celebrating it and enjoying it in the company of others who have been there — is what brings Donovan to Las Vegas tonight and Tuesday. And he’s freshly profiting from his past in lots of new ways. But, unlike many rock relics who return to Vegas, he’s certainly not stuck in it.

Tonight and Tuesday, the man who wrote and sang such classic rock perennials as “Wear Your Love Like Heaven,” “Hurdy Gurdy Man,” “Season of the Witch,” “Jennifer Juniper,” “I Love My Shirt” — the man who put the word “antediluvian” in a Top 10 hit single (“Atlantis”) — Donovan will perform 30-minute sets, mostly acoustic, at the second annual Las Vegas Fest for Beatles Fans, a three-day Beatles wallow at the Mirage, which, not coincidentally, houses “The Beatles: LOVE.” The event also features Pattie Boyd (ex of George Harrison and Eric Clapton) speaking about her memoir; a Beatles museum, a Beatles marketplace and a battle of the Beatles bands.

Donovan’s rare Las Vegas appearance coincides with the 40th anniversary of the famous pilgrimage to India he made with the Beatles. He’ll be interviewed onstage at the Mirage by renowned Beatle-ologist Martin Lewis about that time.

“So (the Las Vegas appearance) is kind of a memoir, really,” Donovan says. “And also a reminder of how extraordinary the meditation that we brought back to the west, the Beatles and I, has blossomed and grown over the years. Maybe you’ve been watching the work I’ve been doing with (film director) David Lynch.” Donovan and his wife, Linda, have been traveling the United Kingdom and the United States, making transcendental meditation programs available to schools.

It seems we’re on the verge of a Donovan renaissance: Expect to hear a lot about — and from — the energetic 62-year-old in the upcoming months. He just completed a three-hour DVD documentary (with nearly two hours of extras), due out this fall, called “Sunshine Superman: The Journey of Donovan.”

“The commercial presentation of the documentary will be the beginning of me performing live again — I’m dying to get out there.”

His official Web site ( is under reconstruction, he says, and will be opening soon.

“And I’m in the process of saving my archive, which has got an amazing amount of material that I had forgotten I even recorded,” he says, chuckling.

“I recently finished a new album called ‘Ritual Groove,’ and right now I’m wondering how to present it, as far as putting it up for download. I call it ‘a soundtrack to a movie not yet made,’ and I’ve been talking to young filmmakers about taking a song and developing the theme, how loss of ritual has got us in a mess. Ritual meaning honoring the water, the fire, the air and the earth. I’m hoping to make it into an international event.”

The focus of Donovan’s considerable energies for the past few years has been placing his songs in movies, television series and commercials.

“I’ve kind of embraced that world,” he says. “Commercials are like the new radio. Young fans who saw the Gap commercial a few years ago put the words ‘Mellow Yellow’ into their search engines and 27 Donovan albums came up! And a whole new generation turned on to my music, which I thought was wonderful.”

After the Beatles fest, he’ll meet with U.K. advertising mega-agency Saatchi & Saatchi, which has placed six Donovan songs in six major commercials in the past two years.

“Delta Air Lines took ‘Happiness Runs,’ and I rerecorded for them, as they wanted it a special way,” he says. “And there was a GE commercial for wind energy, using the song ‘Catch the Wind,’ of course.”

Several years ago this sort of thing was a sore spot for keepers of the countercultural flame — remember the outrage in 1987 when Nike licensed the Beatles’ song “Revolution” to sell sneakers?

Donovan says he looks at his valuable songs not as dusty relics to be cherished by a dwindling few, but as treasures to be shared by many — and why not profit from them again? This month, he attended the Cannes International Advertising Festival.

“The Wall Street Journal asked me for an interview and said, ‘Are you selling out?’ And I said ‘No, I’m selling in.’ ”

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