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Donovan: Psychedelia's Poet Laureate

Donovan, who the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame claimed “single-handedly initiated the psychedelic revolution,” talks to Goldmine about his close relationship with The Beatles and how a creative movement changed from psychedelic drugs to meditation.
 Donovan (Donovan Leitch) during the 1960s holding his Rickenbacker guitar and a flute, a sitar and other guitars in the background. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

Donovan (Donovan Leitch) during the 1960s holding his Rickenbacker guitar and a flute, a sitar and other guitars in the background. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

Donovan, the singer-songwriter who the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame claimed “single-handedly initiated the psychedelic revolution,” talks to Goldmine about his close relationship with The Beatles and how a creative movement changed from psychedelic drugs to meditation.

By Mike Greenblatt

Donovan was vacationingwith his buddy Gypsy Dave (Gyp Mills) in 1966 on a small island off the coast of Greece. They had been living in a log cabin on the top of a mountain eating a steady diet of cheese, tomatoes, fresh fish and fruit. It was, in a word, paradise. When told he had a phone call, he had to head back down into town to the one telephone on the island, a tavern with strong drinks and friendly shadows. Maybe a little annoyed at the intrusion, he stopped composing what would become “Mellow Yellow.”

“You’ve got to come back to England within two days,” said his breathless British manager Ashley (Kozak). “’Sunshine Superman’ is No. 1 in America! There’s a ticket waiting for you in Athens.”

As excited as he must have been at the news, this presented a logistical problem as he had been living on about $2 a day and hardly had enough money for the ferry back to the mainland — a ferry that only arrived once a week and only if the weather was good. And all he had taken with him was a little suitcase record player, batteries, a guitar, some clothing and personal items, plus the “Sunshine Superman” test pressing and The Beatles’ “Revolver.”

That’s when the bartender offered to get him to Athens if Donovan gave him the record player and the albums. It took days to get back to England and by the time he arrived, “Sunshine Superman” was among the Top 10 in Greece, England and all over Europe.

 "Nineteen Sixty something, London," says Donovan of the photo above. "My best friend Gypsy Dave and I are road warriors from even before FAME. In some Media office somewhere, Gyp is pointing to my coffee, if I care to drink some that early morning. It’s obvious that we have not just had a spliff." (Photo courtesy of Donovan)

"Nineteen Sixty something, London," says Donovan of the photo above. "My best friend Gypsy Dave and I are road warriors from even before FAME. In some Media office somewhere, Gyp is pointing to my coffee, if I care to drink some that early morning. It’s obvious that we have not just had a spliff." (Photo courtesy of Donovan)


“There are patterns in any long-term artist’s career,” Donovan tells Goldmine, “like seasons. My first season, in ’63 and ’64 was what they called folk music. My second season was when I plugged in and started hearing the sounds of the future. Producer Mickie Most drew that out of me but he was always looking for the hit single. You must remember, back then, we all were singles artists be it The Beatles, Kinks, Hollies, The Who, Animals and Stones, to myself. We weren’t thinking albums yet. It was all about the radio. Mickie and I made 13 hits in a row! By late ‘70/early ’71, I got this feeling in my heart that I had done what I set out to do. So I started an era of introspection. Did I really want to be a teen idol? Where did I come from? Where did I fit in? What was my mission? What was my impetus? I had started out as part of a tradition going back hundreds of years in Ireland, Scotland and Wales where the bard, in medieval Gaelic culture, was a storyteller. Today you’d call him a singer-songwriter. He was very respected. He knew the history, the ritual, the celebrations of the four great changes of the year: spring, summer, winter and fall. He was there when kings were crowned and at baptisms, at funerals, at births.

“This is the tradition in which I saw and still see myself. Poets, artists, musicians, minstrels, all in service to the healing of society, make music releasing obscure emotion for the human experience. It’s an extremely high calling. So when I passed on from Mickie to my next phase, it wasn’t that we didn’t like each other anymore or had a falling-out, it’s just that I felt a certain part of the work I was doing had been completed. I had done it! I had presented sitar on “Fat Angel” (1966). I did the jazz-fusion thing on “Preachin’ Love” (1967). I introduced psychedelia and meditation within the music. I felt when Mickie and I drifted apart, I had done the job. In a 1971 tour of Japan, it became clear to Gypsy Dave and I that it was done. Over! What else were we going to do? We weren’t in the game to just continue to perform for the rest of our lives as entertainment. We both felt it was a culturally important procedure to present music and poetry in a very different way.”

Donovan had already laid down the first four tracks of “Sunshine Superman” at England’s famed Abbey Road studios by December of 1965. Then off he went to California the following month to finish it by May of ’66. But, as all good stories swerve, he got sued. Mega-Manager Allen Klein was already managing Mickie Most. Klein had seen Donovan perform on the CBS-TV flagship “Ed Sullivan Show” in ‘65. Klein told Donovan much later, “I knew I had to watch out for you, kid. I knew you’d eventually do something quite extraordinary.”

“At the end of each `Ed Sullivan Show,’” explains Donovan, “they would do something known in show business as ‘cheesecake’ when all the performers had to come out at the end of the show, smile and take a final bow. I refused to do that. Allen Klein noticed. That’s when he knew he had watch me. Well, he did watch me.”

It was Klein (1931-2009), manager of The Rolling Stones, Sam Cooke, The Beatles and Phil Spector, who hooked up Donovan with producer Mickie Most. He also tore up Donovan’s record deal with Nashville’s Hickory Records, a small subsidiary of Pye Records in Great Britain. Donovan liked being on Hickory as its roots went back to all sorts of folk music and blues that Donovan loved. Plus, the label had ties with Donovan’s music publisher. It seemed a good fit to the Scottish minstrel. Klein could care less. Donovan, for his part, didn’t know what to think about the crass New Yorker with the big mouth and gangster affectations. Mickie Most knew. He whispered in Donovan’s ear that if Donovan didn’t play ball with Klein, his masterpiece would languish in the vaults for the better part of a year. Hungry to have fans worldwide hear what he was putting down, Donovan was put in quite the quandary. So he did nothing. He took off to Greece with Gypsy Dave. And, indeed, there “Sunshine Superman” sat for six long months through a lawsuit initiated by Klein to get Donovan off Hickory.


 Donovan photographed with his 1965 Gibson J-45 acoustic guitar in London, 2015. (Photo by Rob Monk/Guitarist Magazine via Getty Images)

Donovan photographed with his 1965 Gibson J-45 acoustic guitar in London, 2015. (Photo by Rob Monk/Guitarist Magazine via Getty Images)

Fast-forward 46 years later. Upon being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Class of 2012), the Cleveland museum grandiloquently pronounces Donovan, on “Sunshine Superman,” as having “single-handedly initiated the psychedelic revolution.”

So what, exactly, is psychedelia?

This reporter, 16 in 1967, always thought it was music that was specially made to listen to while stoned. Sticking my head between the cheap Sears speakers of the record player given to me by my mom’s boyfriend at the time, Arnie The Window Washer, proved it.

Donovan says psychedelia goes deeper than that. “It’s quite natural,” Donovan tells Goldmine. “When you look back at the ‘40s and ‘50s, you’ll find a whole host of musicians — reggae and jazz, mostly — enjoying ‘magic plants,’ not chemically prepared drugs but organic substances of the Earth. They were easy to obtain. Yet when psychedelia is attached to music, what you’re actually talking about, is a mood that could come from smoking pot. The tempo and the feel in that kind of music is very laid-back, what we used to call ‘chill.’ You don’t have to smoke to understand but it helps. I was aware of what I was doing. I was making poems and songs to place the audience in a state of relaxation. When we took LSD, mescaline and mushrooms (psilocybin), which were all legal in 1965, we experienced what you might call a synthetic chill.

“Of course the establishment looked at it as sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll and constant partying. But it wascompletely the opposite. These drugs, including marijuana and hashish, opened the psychedelic third eye, very akin to meditation. So why is it, you may ask, that the baby boom generation born just after the second world war wanted to splurge on this new reality? It’s very clear. We used to speak about it a lot. Our parents’ and grandparents’ generations had brought the world to the brink of annihilation by inventing nuclear warfare and the destruction of the eco-system. This goes all the way back to the industrial revolution. Yet the poets, painters and writers were already speaking about the great disaster waiting in the future. The rivers were being poisoned as was the air. Two world wars and a depression were produced. A mass generational angst ensued resulting in artists like The Beatles, Dylan, Leonard Cohen and others rebelling against the material world and the exploitation of natural resources with absolutely no concern for the delicate balance of the natural world. I started writing `Sunshine Superman’ in 1965 but there were artists talking about this in the late ‘50s onward.

“It was a total rejection of our forebears. There became a union of man, a brotherhood, if you will, and it’s not religion, and it’s not about waving the flag or love thy neighbor either. You could say psychedelia was a natural response of life-affirming values to a culture of death and stagnation, a deep movement that was clamped down on because we were saying no to the previous generation.

“They tried to stop it. They tried to bust us for it. These substances were then made illegal despite the fact that doctors and scientists were experimenting with strong plants in their laboratories to help the mentally ill. They found, and they’re still finding when they can, that certain plants in the plant kingdom can heal broken psychotic conditions. So is the human race really the most advanced form of life on the planet? Unenlightened humans are blind-folded. They don’t look to the future. They don’t seem to care what’s going to happen to their children and grandchildren. So the idea of the psychedelic journey is within you, not without. Because the parents went out and destroyed everything they could possibly find. The inner world had to be explored. We didn’t have yogis or meditation in the West on a mass scale in the early ‘60s. It was all in the East. That’s part of why psychedelia eventually moved on into meditation.

“Psychedelia is not only a few lyrics about getting high, although that’s part of it. It’s a mood. You probably know much younger new psychedelic bands today who would much rather play a song on stage for over 20 minutes with no words. It’s not that they’re high onstage. It’s very hard to perform music when you’re high. Very few bands took acid and then went onstage. It’s almost impossible. The idea for a psychedelic sound is a chill sound, a sound having a distinct effect upon the central nervous system. It’s The Buddha Café, man. Once you’ve romanced your darling with The Beatles, once you’ve rocked and rolled with The Rolling Stones, later in the evening you’d put on a Donovan record to enter yet another place between the love songs and hot rock. I had been doing all this quite naturally not really thinking too much about it. It’s only in later years did I realize a lot of this.”

Donovan wasn’t the only one who experimented with music, with drugs, with meditation. His good friends Paul and George in The Beatles were undergoing a similar transcendence. Donovan’s friendship with Paul was music-based. His friendship with George was a lot deeper.

 Game Changer: Devotees of the Mahareshi Mahesh Yogi at his academy in India, high up in the Himalayas, where they have come to study transcendental meditation, March 1968. From left to right, Patti Boyd, John Lennon (1940-1980), Mike Love of The Beach Boys, Mahareshi Mahesh Yogi, George Harrison (1943-2001), Mia Farrow, John Farrow, Donovan, Paul McCartney, Jane Asher, Cynthia Lennon. (Photo by Keystone Features/Hulton Archive/Getty Images.)

Game Changer: Devotees of the Mahareshi Mahesh Yogi at his academy in India, high up in the Himalayas, where they have come to study transcendental meditation, March 1968. From left to right, Patti Boyd, John Lennon (1940-1980), Mike Love of The Beach Boys, Mahareshi Mahesh Yogi, George Harrison (1943-2001), Mia Farrow, John Farrow, Donovan, Paul McCartney, Jane Asher, Cynthia Lennon. (Photo by Keystone Features/Hulton Archive/Getty Images.)

But first Paul. The Beatles and Donovan had been early admirers of each other’s music since ’65. John carried around a mini-jukebox on tour with him and the early Donovan 45 “Turquoise” was one of the songs he listened to regularly. Donovan, for his part, loved the “palpable shift in their direction that intrigued me,” as he says. “John and Paul, let me say, were very aware of their influence over millions of people. They were also both very highly skilled. Plus, they seemed to know every single popular song from 1945 onward! It was obvious to me they had put their time in.

“The interest that ultimately brought us closely together was meditation,” he continues, “but that wouldn’t be until 1967. In ’65, we found ourselves inextricably linked for two reasons. They come from a very powerful seaside ship-building port town Liverpool just as I came from the exact same sort of town in Glasgow, Scotland. They were completely immersed in the Irish diaspora that had moved out of Ireland into Liverpool. They knew the folk world, they read poetry, they went to the theater and, let me tell you, they certainly entertained radical thought for those days. That’s the exact kind of milieu I was brought up in. Liverpool was a tough town. They had to fight prevailing and, yes, backwards thought. We were kindred souls. They were fascinated by my love of blues, jazz, folk, Japanese music, classical, ragas from India, Baroque, Eskimo music and early rock ’n’ roll. They proved to be just as much of a sponge as was I, soaking up all this stuff. You don’t become the most famous band in the world unless you have acquired and adapted tons of stuff that people did before them. It’s like Picasso. He absorbed everything he possibly could. And when he created something, everybody thought it was so unique but it was an amalgamation of many other earlier things. The Beatles were like that, too. It all came out, of course, in their later music. They seemed at the time to be so fascinated when we would all just sit around and I would do it right there in front of them on a guitar.”

Donovan, like Woody Guthrie, also had, and has, a natural affinity for writing children’s songs. The Beatles, upon hearing these songs, would crack up in laughter. This delighted Donovan and made the bonds of friendship even stronger.


The scene is Donovan’s London flat. It’s a beautiful Sunday morning in spring of ’66. The sun is streaming in through the windows as Donovan sits cross-legged on a Japanese tatami mat composing and wondering why there’s no one in the street outside his window.

“You cannot possibly imagine any major street in any major city today being absolutely empty on a Sunday,” he remembers. “It’s impossible! But things were very different back then. I remember it like it was yesterday. There was not a soul around. The quiet was eerie. I had this little Swiss tape recorder between my legs when there came a knock on the door.

“‘I wonder who that is,’ I thought.”

Donovan answers the door and it’s Paul dressed in his regimented suit, white shirt, no tie, with a guitar slung around his neck.

Paul: “What are you doing?”

Donovan: “I’m writing songs. What are YOU doing?”

Paul: “I’m writing songs, too. Can I come in?”

Donovan: “Sure. In ya come!”

Paul enters, takes his shoes off, sits on one of the mats cross-legged facing Donovan.

Donovan: “So, what’ve you got?”

Paul: (singing) “Ola Matungi/blowing his mind with a pipe filled with clay/What can you say?” (The song would eventually become “Eleanor Rigby.”)

Donovan: “Who’s Ola Matungi?”

Paul: “Oh, it’s a bloke I’ve been reading about in a book. What’ve you got?”

The doorbell rings. Donovan goes to answer it with Paul peeking behind. It’s a very young policeman who immediately spies Paul and says, “Oh! It’s you, Mr. McCartney!” With that, the cop comes to full attention mode and salutes the Beatle!

Donovan: “Geez, is that how it is with you guys?”

Paul: “I’m afraid it is. We’re like royalty now.”

The cop switches to an at-ease posture, and says to Paul, “Is that your car downstairs, Mr. McCartney? The Aston Martin?”

Paul: “Yeah.”

Young Cop: “Well Sir, it has one wheel on the pavement and the other three wheels are in the road.”

Paul: “Yeah?”

Young Cop: “And the door is open and the radio is playing.”

Paul: “Yeah?”

The cop looks at Donovan as if beseeching him for help but Donovan just smiles and remains mute.

Young Cop: “Well, Mr. McCartney, if you give me the keys, I’ll properly park it for you.”

Obviously, this was a time of innocence. It wouldn’t be long before British rock stars would be busted left and right for marijuana and other drugs, starting with Donovan and continuing with The Beatles and Stones.

Paul gives him the keys to his Aston Martin and off goes the cop to properly park the car. The two musicians resume their positions.

Donovan: “What else have you got?””

Paul: “I’ve got this.” (singing) ‘In the town where I was born/Lived a man who sailed to sea/And he told us of his life/in the land of submarines.’ Now, I must admit, Don, this is really the reason I came today. I’m stuck on a line and was hoping you could help. I’ve tried and tried but I just cannot get any words for this next bit. Can you come up with something?”

So he hums it.

Donovan: “Give me a moment. Let me have a go.”

Donovan turns to go into his bedroom to work something out by himself. Knowing that Beatles road manager Mal Evans or drummer Ringo would oftentimes come up with an uncredited line on a Lennon/McCartney tune, he had to smile to himself at the request.

Returning to his station atop the Tatami mat, Donovan cleans his throat and sings, “sky of blue and sea of green/in my yellow submarine.”

Donovan: “How’s that?”

As the doorbell rings again, the two musicians greet the cop.

Young Cop: “Here’s your keys, Mr. McCartney.”

With that, the cop resumes his stance at full attention and salutes Paul again before abruptly turning on his heel and exiting the building. Donovan and Paul have a good laugh, resume their positions and finish the song and say their goodbyes.

“By the late summer of that year, it was all too much for them as a band,” Donovan says softly and wistfully. “They could never play live again. Audiences had been throwing things at the stage. Their fame had grown to dangerous proportions which would, down the road, ultimately result in, as you know, John’s death and great damage to George. Hey, we sang radical songs. We knew we’d be attacked. But back in that high spring of ’66, it felt like anything could happen. And it did.”


Beatle John had demons. He wasn’t a very nice man. Independent sources confirm that the issues John harbored within his tortured soul oftentimes resulted in verbal outbursts and woe be those who might be the target. He could be cutting, insulting, bullying and uncaring. One such story comes from a former member of the Turtles who idolized John but upon meeting him as an equal was reduced to a blubbering mass of protoplasm from the sharp barbs emanating from John’s tongue. Yet Donovan defends him.

“The Turtle must’ve over-reacted, no? John had a dark side, yes,” admits Donovan, “but so did Liverpool itself. John was a lot like those swaggering sailors who’d dock and drink and cut you to ribbons with terse comments if they didn’t like you. They’d have a go at anyone. And so would The Beatles. Especially John. Don’t forget, he lost his mom twice and nobody, but nobody, had the extreme fame and fortune experience those four guys had. So when John let off steam — although he never did it with me — it became verbally cutting. He had a tongue on him that was positively vitriolic. You don’t mind it when it’s in his songs, do you? Well, he was like that in private or with lots of people around. You remember American fans burning Beatles records, don’t you? Imagine you were in that position. People always expect you to be nice. John couldn’t be nice all the time. He carried his baggage with him. So the Turtle is thinking he’s meeting this great songwriter as a blank slate. Well, The Beatles were always going on with each other and anyone who came within their orbit. Usually, it was absolutely hilarious. Sometimes it would get edgy. They could be very intense with each other or with other people. I’ve seen it. But it was the only way they could deal with their extraordinary situation. Like when they did not want to kiss the poor children in wheelchairs when they were in Manila. Their passports were confiscated until they did it. These kinds of tensions built up. You’d really have to be in John’s shoes to understand him. He had an interest in my music early and never saw me as a threat. He was always nice to me. Like Dylan, Davey Graham, Neil Young, Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell and myself, all these guitar players and songwriters, we were like a big fraternity in the 1960s. We came out of the folk-blues tradition. It was bohemia, actually, that we all came from. We all had lots to give and lots to share. We all wanted to meet a band like The Beatles. And they wanted to meet us! Basically, we wanted to blend the two things together. They used to call it folk-rock because it was folk music and rock ’n’ roll but it’s deeper than that. It becomes much more clear if you call it Gaelic Rock. What you’re actually hearing in Beatle harmony are Aeolian chants by way of the Everly Brothers who learned Irish and Scottish songs from their grandmother in Kentucky.”

As for George?

“We were reading the same books,” comes the answer. “It was George who gave me the 1946 book “Autobiography of a Yogi” by Paramhansa Yogananda. I, in turn, gave him “The Diamond Sutra.” We would talk about it. We realized that within those two books was a way forward and that way forward was to look inward. Soon a whole generation would be seeking similar paths inward. There were Jamaicans all over London and they always had something to smoke. Then LSD and mescaline found their way in. Those drugs were a little more sophisticated. There was no heroin or cocaine around at the time. At least I don’t remember such. Our scene was much more laid-back anyway. Amphetamine was everywhere, though. That wasn’t bohemian. That was more The Mods and their pop music. Quaaludes, known as Mandrax in England, was also around, but it was part of the pop scene. Our bohemian scene was much more interested in reggae, mon, laid-back ganja smoking and taking some acid now and again. All to take a spiritual journey within. Those extreme 1965 psychedelic journeys could get dangerous, though, especially in the city where it was stressful. There were no shamans, nobody to teach us how to use this powerful tool to unlock the secrets of the mind, like they did on the Amazon, in the tribes for hundreds of years.

 The January 2018 issue with Donovan on the cover. There are other Donovan photos and psychedelic curios in the issue, not covered online. To order, simply click on the photo.

The January 2018 issue with Donovan on the cover. There are other Donovan photos and psychedelic curios in the issue, not covered online. To order, simply click on the photo.

“But bohemian books were also speaking of meditation,” continues Donovan. “And that, right there, was what brought The Beatles and myself closely together. It wasn’t just the sitar. Or even the songs. It went deeper than that. It was the books. When we read the books, it was clear. We were part of only a few thousand at the time reading these books. Soon, after we started presenting certain ideas in our music, millions would flood bookshops to pass these books around. And what were the books saying? They confirmed what we already knew. That the older generation was destroying the eco-system with no consideration whatsoever for the inner world of plants, for the inner world of children, and they were trying to brainwash the younger generation to follow in their insidious desire for all things materialistic, including an exploitation of natural resources and a greedy lust for as much money as possible. These books George and I shared spoke to that. They spoke of the reason why the human race had arrived at this stage. It wasn’t just greed and being evil, there was a psychosis going on. It was a brainwashing. George put all this into his music, even calling his very last album “Brainwashed” (2002). These books were hidden in the West. They were not available. The reason why this kind of teaching was lost in the West, buried, hidden, gone underground, was because of the enormous job that the new religion called Christianity had done for well over a thousand years destroying the old religions of Europe while murdering, torturing and burning thousands of female teachers who they called witches. In actual fact, they weren’t witches! They were natural healers, women who were part of nurturing future children. That was the old religion in the West. It was almost destroyed. One can only learn from these books of the East how to actually enter the inner world without taking psychedelics. They spoke very clearly and very simply. They spoke of the psychosis. So did Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud. They too spoke of the mental illness suffered by the human race.

“George and I spent hours talking about this. We theorized that there was, indeed, a method to go inward without taking difficult stressful trips on LSD, mescaline or even sacred mushrooms. It’s a very intense trip to go inward with those substances. There’s a gentler way. This is what we spoke about. At length. We agreed we needed a teacher. We wanted to see this way of thinking taught in schools but because the human race is suffering, not able to see what is going on inside, we knew that was a fool’s errand. The answer, of course, is meditation. So we set about to find a mantra. This proved fruitless. There was nobody around to show us the path.

“Then, one day, Pattie (Boyd) and George are in India. He’s there to study sitar with Ravi Shankar so he’s busy. Pattie is not. So Patti is out with the Shankar women, dressed in a sari to see Indian art, eat Indian food, listen to Indian music and dance Indian dances. How wonderful! My God, just thinking about it now, I don’t know about you but I fancy some curry! So she’s out with the girls. They take her to a lecture by a new yogi who had just come out of the Himalayan caves. It was said he had become part of an ancient tradition where his guru came from another guru who came from an even older guru and it goes back for so many generations that they’re considered preservers of the pure.

“His name was Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. So she goes to the lecture, is quite impressed, and tells George. But he quickly forgets. They come back to England. Suddenly, there’s the Maharishi arriving in England doing lectures! Seeing a poster for such, Pattie says, `Look! There’s that guy I told you about.’ George says, `Wow, let’s go see him.’ And they did. And they got initiated. Then George called me on the phone. ‘He’s here!’ I said, `Who’s here?’ He said, ‘The teacher we’ve been looking for all along! He’s a yogi and he looks like the real thing. He laughs a lot.’ I said, `That’s a good sign.’ But we never went.

”So I go to America in ’67 to tour and get a note passed to me by one of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s aides. It says, `Maharishi wants to invite you to a lecture.’ I thought, `All right! Let’s go!’ So I went. It was at a college campus somewhere on the outskirts of Los Angeles. I heard what he had to say and after the lecture I met him and he invited me to be initiated as well.

“So I go to this Beverly Hills house owned by a couple called the Olsens. He had other hosts as well in South America and the Far East but this was his first time in California. I walk in and the front room is completely cleared of furniture. People are sitting with no shoes on and their backs to the wall. Outside, the lawns are gently being sprinkled and it was a lovely sunny day. I sit down against the wall next to seven hairy guys. I thought, ‘They must be from a band, right?’ So there I am, sitting, waiting, until one of the aides comes up in his socks and his suit and he says to me, ‘Maharishi will see you now.’ I’m beckoned into the kitchen. It was dark. No furniture. Sitting on the floor was this extremely long-haired yogi dressed in a cashmere shawl and a silk ascot, fully bearded and I knew exactly it was him. I had met him at the lecture, but all he had said to me at the lecture afterwards, when he clicked-clacked up to me in his wooden sandals, looking deep into my eyes, and I into his, when I asked him, ‘Are you the guy?’ He just giggled and said, ‘Yeah, I’m the guy. I can teach you.’ He had held my hand at the university and simply said, ‘Come and see me.’ His aides had given me the address. So now we’re in the kitchen alone together and he quietly says, ‘Sit down.’ I do so and he says, ‘Yes. Now close your eyes.’ So I close my eyes. ‘Take a deep breath. Relax.’

“I remember thinking at the time that this was something I had heard about. That still did not prepare me for what would happen next. He said, ‘Now repeat this word.’ I started to repeat it despite not understanding what it was. He said, ‘No, don’t speak it. Think it. Say it inside only.’ So I did. I think it was the second or third time I recited it to myself, when I fell. I started falling inside like Alice down the bloody rabbit hole. Whoooooooo, and I fell down and down and down to a place I’d never been before. I knew intellectually that true yogis can place you into a place where you are deep deeeeeeeeeeeeep inside where you will actually find that the space is yours and yours alone. It’s not heaven. It’s certainly not hell. It’s always been inside you. And that, right there, was what George and I were reading about but not quite understanding.

“Time passed. I didn’t know how much time had passed. It didn’t seem to matter. This man, this teacher, this place, time didn’t exist. This is what the books were speaking of. Total deep rest. Deeper than sleep. I had transcended the three human levels of consciousness: waking, sleeping and dreaming. We all live in those three levels and we forget the one when we pass to the other. That’s the problem. But there’s a fourth level! It’s super-conscious transcendental vision. When George and I first read that in the books, I remember we excitedly told Paul and Ringo all about it. When one is in this place, all difficulties, all dualities, all opposites, are resolved into what’s called The Unity. I was in there, in that little Beverly Hills kitchen.

“He said, ‘Ok, open your eyes slowly.’ And as I began to open my eyes, it wasn’t that I went rushing back up the rabbit hole but somehow I entered the room again. That’s when he said, ‘Come see me again. Practice this 20 minutes a day.’ The aide tells Maharishi about the seven long-hairs still waiting to see him. ‘They call themselves the Grateful Dead.’ The maharishi laughs and says, ‘They should not call themselves the Grateful Dead. They should call themselves the Grateful Living.’ And then he giggled.”

As history would have it, Donovan ventured to India in 1968 for an extended sabbatical with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi where he meditated with The Beatles, a Beach Boy, jazz man Paul Horn, actress Mia Farrow, family, friends and crew totaling over 60 people. This is where The Beatles wrote most of their White Album (Donovan added the uncredited phrase “seashell eyes/windy smile” to Lennon’s “Julia” and taught John a strain of fingerpicking). Donovan would then go on to team up with filmmaker David Lynch in 2007 in The David Lynch Foundation to bring transcendental meditation to schools. In 2009, The David Lynch Foundation staged the Change Begins Within benefit concert for meditation efforts at New York City’s Radio City Music Hall, which Donovan performed at with a star-studded lineup. This year, a DVD of that concert was released by Eagle Rock Entertainment.

Donovan invites all to his website.

Listen to the Donovan podcast episode!