Carol Forsloff – Donovan P. Leitch represents one of America’s music treasures as both a composer and entertainer, one of those solitary folk whose music passed through the history of a generation, then became forgotten as the new forms of music and their connoisseurs looked at these as simplistic and outdated. But Donovan’s songs, and others written and presented during the 1960’s, are as relevant today as when they were written, as they documented not just the problems of an era but its history as well.
Donovan, whose single name reflects the name recognition given those who have cut a wide swath in world culture, with his Irish roots and his view of humanity made his mark writing songs about the concerns of people and their problems, during a time of turbulence and change. The 1960’s saw the advent of the space program in earnest, the integration and voting rights established by folks willing to make sacrifices to help people gain equality. It reflected a change for women as well, bringing women’s rights into focus. Poverty programs brought a more level playing field to folks who otherwise would not have been able to share in the prosperity of the period. But the era also brought an unpopular war, the anguish and suffering of veterans who returned from the war with emotional and physical wounds from which many never fully recovered. Folk artists chronicled these events.
But it was those same folk artists who were thrown under the proverbial bus as the culture moved forward with the Me First Generation to focus on business and the politics that reflected a change from the focus on the poor, the helpless, and the problems of folks who had suffered during the Vietnam War to building Wall Street’s power instead. Joan Baez, a Quaker and a pacifist, was sometimes ridiculed for her involvement in war protests, with folks equating her with a lack of patriotism for those protests, forgetting that her songs and her protests were directed to war itself as opposed to the welfare of the military who fought them.
Donovan became one of the victims of the changes in music, politics and a revolution of culture, where simple folk music, offered by those folks in the coffee houses of yore, became the music of the past.
This year Donovan’s music received new attention with his induction into music’s rock and roll hall of fame in March of 2012. Yet Donovan, in spite of the label given him with this award as a rock and roll artist, offered many of America’s folksingers an opportunity to tell the stories of their time, through the music he created, like “Be Not Too Hard,” a song relevant for today’s soldiers marching home from wars in the Middle East to a nation where jobs are difficult to find and folks burdened with worry, debt and a nation torn by political strife.
Where are the folksingers of today? We hear them on an occasional street corner, but for the most part they do not protest but instead mumble words of love or fear or recite the songs of today in wandering, sometimes meaningless tones. Yet they are among us, those artists who write of our present times, simply finding that small niche in an off-main street venue where the aging 60’s somethings come to listen to the familiar. And they are there at the social gatherings of the young who are looking for a change today from the dissension, poverty, and world crises that appear daily on the news cycles. They are also on Fandalism, coming out of the corners of that certain age, and still expressing the sentiments of the past that remain part of today’s issues.
There are many people who remember Donovan and his contribution to music, especially his narrative of the ever-present needs of the forgotten, the helpless, the soldier who worries about his life when he returns from war to a nation that offers little thanks for years of sacrifice. So “Be Not Too Hard” reminds us of those important things in life, about forgiveness and understanding, qualities important at the time Donovan became one of those important chroniclers of American history through his music and still relevant, including, and most especially for, today’s military.