Donovan’s new song “I Am The Shaman” has a video directed by David Lynch. It’s beautiful & haunting and features a chorus sung backwards. I don’t know if this was Lynch’s idea or Donovan’s, but it has a strange effect and plays well in the dreamlike quality of the song. It’s good to see Donovan still doing his mystical thing at age 75. Remember “The Hurdy Gurdy Man”? That was over 50 years ago. I was 17 and had no idea what he was singing about and no idea what a “Hurdy Gurdy Man” could be. Still, the song stuck with you.
In the intervening years, I found out that a Hurdy Gurdy is a stringed musical instrument which has a rich history dating back to the 11th century. A hand crank rotates a wheel which rubs against the strings producing violin like sounds. It is similar to a bagpipe in that it has drone strings which produce a constant sound under the melodies played. It is hard to imagine one “singing songs of love” against the melancholy sounds it produces, but if anyone could do it, Donovan could.
I first met Phil Arnot in 1991, responding to an ad in a local newspaper for a 9 day backpacking adventure in a “remote” region of the High Sierra called “The Black Divide”, led by Phil. At the time, I was nearly 41, and in reasonably good shape. Phil was 67, so I figured I would have no problem keeping up with the group. It’s not like we were mounting an expedition to Mount Everest. The first day, as we entered the High Sierra by hiking 8 miles over Bishop Pass (12,000′) burdened by backpacks heavy with supplies for the next 9 days, it dawned on me that this was going to be an awesome experience. And, despite the the fact that everyone in the group was in as good or better shape than me, none of us were as fit as Phil. Phil, as it turns out, had been hiking all over the High Sierra since the 1940s, and guiding trips since the 1960s. He had an intimate and spiritual relationship with this sublime wilderness and loved to share it’s secrets and stories with others. He used to say that he did not go into the wilderness for recreation, he went there for RE-creation, to be renewed, to be RE-created in the pantheistic beauty of the natural world.
Besides being a wilderness guide, he was a skilled photographer, author and teacher. He grew up in San Francisco and was a star athlete excelling in track while in High School and later at University of California, Berkeley. He served in the Army Air Corps during World War II as a pilot on a B-17, flying 21 missions over Germany for which he was awarded several service medals. After the war, he became a committed pacifist, frequently attending peace marches and writing letters to politicians, hoping to make the world a better place. He most certainly did. For many who knew him, myself included, he was an inspiration. GRATITUDE. PEACE. LOVE. My friend.