Buttkickin’ Halloween Songs: “Hurdy Gurdy Man” — Donovan (1968)

Thrown like a star in my vast sleep
I opened my eyes to take a peek
To find that I was by the sea
Gazing with tranquility

‘Twas then when the Hurdy Gurdy Man
Came singing songs of love…

All things considered, there’s nothing intrinsically Halloweenish about Donovan’s 1968 hit single Hurdy Gurdy Man. I mean, except for the realization that it is an eminently spooking sounding song, and by our reckoning that’s certainly enough to merit an inclusion.

This song was put to great effect in David Fincher’s masterful 2007 film Zodiac, so well in fact that it always stuck with me as the definitive presentation of the material. Of course, what a real-life serial killer who terrorized the Bay Area over five decades ago has to do with Donovan’s folksy tune about enlightenment is anyone’s interpretation. I have four.

Regardless, Donovan wrote this tune whilst hanging out with The Beatles in Rishikesh, where he taught John Lennon fingerpicking on the guitar and George Harrison opened Donovan’s eyes to Indian music. Who got the better deal? Probably the Maharishi, but that’s a meatball for another sub. The important thing here is that the experience influenced Donovan to write Hurdy Gurdy Man, a song ostensibly about spiritual enlightenment and maybe the collective unconscious of humanity.

However, reading the lyrics, you can take the song any way you want it to. Is the Hurdy Gurdy Man God? Christ? SATAN??!! Are the pain, depravity, and inequities of the human experience so vastly profound and categorically unjust that “only love is the answer”? And WHO exactly is the Roly Poly Man?

Or are cosmic entities kicking back and taking perverse pleasure in observing our physical and spiritual suffering?

Hurdy Gurdy Man gives no answers. Just an endless chant of his name, a name to scream in the infinite darkness in hopes that it will light a torch that maybe isn’t even there, and never was.

Histories of ages past
Unenlightened shadows cast
Down through all eternity
The crying of humanity

‘Tis then when the Hurdy Gurdy Man
Comes singing songs of love…

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