The Summer of Love, 50 Years On: Part Three: Sunshine Superman

Donovan Leitch is a forgotten superhero of ‘60s music, so deeply attuned to the era that when its core messages were abandoned by mass media and fashion in the 1970s, he was abandoned with them. In the late ‘60s, however, he was troubadour to the court of rock royalty, courted by Bob Dylan and friends with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. He also produced some wonderfully innovative music that was ahead of the curve of most musicians of the time. His late 1965 LP, ‘Fairytale,’ contains two tracks, ‘Sunny Goodge Street’ and ‘Candyman,’ that overtly reference cannabis use. His classic single, ‘Sunshine Superman,’ released in December 1966 though recorded a full year earlier, was still at no. 3 in the UK singles chart in the first week of 1967. Both its sides reference LSD, the B-side being a remarkable, driving slice of prime early psychedelia called simply ‘The Trip.’

The opening lines of ‘Sunshine Superman’ are:

"Sunshine came softly through my window today
Could've tripped out easy but I've changed my ways.”

This is a reminder that Donovan was not only one of the first UK musicians to embrace LSD as a means of spiritual exploration, he was also among the first to publicly abandon it in favour of transcendental meditation.

The last verse of the song references two DC comic book superheroes:

"Superman or Green Lantern ain't got nothin' on me,
I can make like a turtle and dive for your pearls in the sea,
You you you can just sit there a-thinking on your velvet throne,
About all the rainbows that you can have for your own...”

Prior to the mid-’60s, superhero comics had been considered disposable fodder fit only for pre-adolescent boys with juvenile power fantasies. This began to change when comics legends, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, introduced new kinds of superheroes at Marvel Comics. Kirby’s Fantastic Four feuded like a real family, Ditko’s Spider-Man was the kind of geek who might previously have scraped by as a teenage sidekick to a ‘proper’ superhero. Kirby’s Thor was a god of Asgard sent by his father, Odin, to walk the Earth, while Ditko’s Doctor Strange was an astrally projecting, spell-casting magician, a veritable ‘Master of the Mystic Arts.’ The comic book geek in me can’t help but note that Donovan refers to two DC heroes in the song, saying that they “ain’t got nothin’ on me.” This could be a recognition that, in the mid-’60s, the cool kids were all reading Marvel Comics with their more relateable characters and superior art. Incidentally, Kirby's Thor was my introduction to Paganism, while Ditko's Doctor Strange introduced me to many core concepts of ritual magic.

Suddenly comic books were being read and enjoyed by college students. Donovan was, I believe, the first musician to refer to this phenomenon, recognising that, for people in their teens and twenties, these colourfully costumed super-beings with their god-like powers were increasingly taking the place once occupied by the gods of more ancient mythologies. In the last verse of ‘Sunshine Superman,’ he also shows clear recognition of the fact that the popularity of superheroes was largely driven by a feeling that we could become them or, as is the case here, exceed them, by expanding our consciousness. This is the essence of what anthropologists now like to call ‘shamanism.’

Donovan, in common with other musicians of the era, perhaps more than most of them, recognised the power of music to alter perceptions and devoted his art to putting out ‘good vibrations’ into the world. This is why, 50 years on, his music still resonates, still calls on us to excel, to pursue those rainbows for the ones we love, to become the superheroes of our own life stories.

Published on Categories 'Shamanism', Art, Art, Bards, Music, Music, Pacifism, PhilosophyTags , , , , ,
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About Greywolf

I'm Greywolf (aka Philip Shallcrass). My main claim to fame (such as it is) is that I'm chief of the British Druid Order (BDO). I discovered Druidry in 1974, seeing it as a native British 'shamanic' spirituality. An Alexandrian Wiccan coven I joined in 1978 transformed into the Grove of the Badger as Druidry increasingly replaced Wicca in its rites. The end result was the BDO. Emma Restall Orr was joint chief of the Order with me from 1995 to 2002. I live in rural Wiltshire, not far from my spiritual heartland, the area in and around the Avebury henge. I'm a writer, musician, artist, drum-maker, roundhouse-builder and thatcher. I have three sons who share my obsession with music, books and film. Personal obsessions include the work of Britain's greatest bard, Robin Williamson, the comic books of Jack 'King' Kirby (1907-1994) and the speed-freak rock'n'roll of The Screaming Blue Messiahs.

One thought on “The Summer of Love, 50 Years On: Part Three: Sunshine Superman

  1. avatarSteve Thomason

    I’m really enjoying your observations on the mid/late 60s. I think we all tend to feel our formative years were the most innovative and significant in recent history but, since I share approximately the same era as you, I have to agree with your comments and, pretty much, your choice of music artist so far.

    The music, the sudden influx of spiritual ideas from overseas, as well as the explosion of interest in Wicca (and ecology) and the availability of esoteric books (some, it has to be admitted in retrospect, excruciatingly bad), made it an exciting time. I’m afraid I could rarely afford the comic magazines you refer to (I got through a degree and PGCE on the purchase of two course books), although I was well aware of them through my friends, and I must confess I dropped away from the “popular” music scene around 1968 when I discovered more “traditional” folk but I was listening to and enjoying all your choices up until then – as well as a few others you haven’t mentioned (yet?). I still think those tracks are fantastic though I never had the skill to emulate them.

    I discovered Wicca at that time but never got very far with it and pretty much went my own way, with an attempt at Christianity, until about 10 years ago when I discovered this thing called Druidry which pretty much described what I’d been doing and feeling for the intervening half century.

    I’m looking forward to your reminiscences in Part IV.

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