Thursday, February 23, 2017

Donovan – "Epistle to Dippy" (1967)

Look on yonder misty mountain
See the young monk m-e-d—
—itating rhododendron forest

“Epistle to Dippy” is a musical open letter to an old school friend of Donovan’s who was in the British Army in Malaysia at the time.  

One website says the song has “a strong pacifist message.”  (You could have fooled me.)  Another  website says that “Dippy” contacted Donovan when he heard the song, and Donovan bought his friend out of the army.  

I have no idea whether it was possible to buy someone out of UK military service in 1967.  (I am from Missouri, and you know what that means.)

What I do know is that Donovan had to have been high when he wrote the lyrics to “Epistle to Dippy.”

There are a lot of sixties songs with lyrics that sound like the songwriter was high when he wrote them.  But Donovan stands out from the rest of the sixties crowd because EVERY Donovan songs sounds like he was high when he wrote it.  (And not just a little high.)

The song probably makes perfect sense to Dippy.  For the rest of the world, it's impenetrable.

The three verses of “Epistle to Dippy” share one odd little metrical trick: the second and third lines of all those verses break after the first syllable of a multisyllabic word.

In the lyrics quoted at the beginning of this post, Donovan holds the first syllable of “meditating” for several beats before completing that word.

The second line of the second verse ends with Donovan holding the first syllable of “suspicious”:

Doing us paperback reader
Made the teacher s-u-s—
—picious about insanity
Fingers always touching girl

And the second line of the third verse ends with the singer holding the first syllable of “speculating”:

Rebel against society
Such a tiny s-p-e-c—
—ulating whether to be hip or
Skip along quite merrily

The sleeve for the “Epistle to Dippy” 45
It’s a poetic technique I’ve never encountered before.  There’s probably a name for it, but I don’t know what that name is and I’m too busy to go looking for it.  (It’s February, which means I’m in the middle of “28 Songs in 28 Days,”which means I have no time to waste looking for needles in Internet rabbit holes.)

 I have no memory of hearing “Epistle to Dippy” on AM radio, and it doesn’t strike me as the kind of song that would get a lot of play on top-forty stations.

But “Epistle to Dippy” made it to #19 on the Billboard “Hot 100,” so I’m obviously full of sh*t.  (Like there was still any doubt about that.)

By the way . . . the lead guitarist on this record is Jimmy Page.  Before joining the Yardbirds, Page was an extremely busy session guitarist who played on Beatles, Rolling Stones, Kinks, and Who records, not to mention “As Tears Go By” (Marianne Faithful) and “Downtown” (Petula Clark).

Here’s “Epistle to Dippy”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

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