Donovan Mountain

donovan zen mountains snails and garden gates

IN 1967, DONOVAN RELEASED “THERE IS A MOUNTAIN.” At the time, Donno was an es­tab­lished hit­maker: in the UK, he had had five pre­vious Top 10 hits. In the US, he was coming off of a pair of huge hits: Sun­shine Su­perman (#1 on both Bill­board and Cash Box) and Mellow Yellow (#2 on Bill­board and #3 on Cash Box). 

The song is simple, easily re­mem­bered, easily sung. What was unique about this recording was that it dealt with basic Zen Bud­dhist prin­ci­pals on the per­cep­tion of “re­ality,” some­thing rather rare in mass pop­ular Western cul­ture. Thus the lyric had no “real” meaning within Western cul­ture and phi­los­ophy.


There Is a Moun­tain

Here are the lyrics:

The lock upon my garden gate’s a snail, that’s what it is.
The lock upon my garden gate’s a snail, that’s what it is.
First there is a moun­tain, then there is no moun­tain, then there is.
First there is a moun­tain, then there is no moun­tain, then there is.

Cater­pillar sheds his skin to find a but­terfly within.
Cater­pillar sheds his skin to find a but­terfly within.
First there is a moun­tain, then there is no moun­tain, then there is.
First there is a moun­tain, then there is no moun­tain.

Oh Juanita, oh Juanita, oh Juanita, I call your name.
The snow will be a blinding sight to see as it lies on yonder hill­side.

The lock upon my garden gate’s a snail, that’s what it is.
The lock upon my garden gate’s a snail, that’s what it is.
Cater­pillar sheds his skin to find a but­terfly within.
Cater­pillar sheds his skin to find a but­terfly within.

First there is a moun­tain, then there is no moun­tain, then there is.
First there is a moun­tain, then there is no moun­tain, then there is.
First there is a moun­tain, then there is no moun­tain, then there is.
First there is a moun­tain, then there is no moun­tain, then there is.

The recording is done as an in­formal sin­ga­long. It sounds like an out­take from the ses­sions for the Swinging Medal­lions’ Double Shot Of My Baby’s Love or the Beach Boys’ Bar­bara Ann or even Dy­lan’s Rainy Day Women #12 & 35.

There Is A Moun­tain was also a big hit, reaching the Top 10 in the two big mar­kets” it peaked at #8 in the UK and at #9 on Cash Box, but only reaching #11 on Bill­board.

NealsNotes on Zen and satori

The lyrics are based on clas­sical Zen phi­los­ophy: there is the per­cep­tion of “re­ality” be­fore satori, then there is satori and a new per­cep­tion of “re­ality” during the mo­ment of satori. Then there is the re­turn to the per­cep­tion of “normal re­ality,” but with the aware­ness that this per­cep­tion is not the only per­cep­tion. (I know, I know: sim­plistic but it should help.)

These lyrics made NO sense to most West­erners at the time. It would take a lot of LSD and med­i­ta­tion and reading/studying for even a few of us to have re­ceived it in 1967 (or 1987 or 2007 …).

I cannot even begin to ex­plain satori with any real ability: ba­si­cally, it’s an in­stan­ta­neous “aware­ness” of a re­ality dif­ferent than the con­sen­sual re­ality in which we all un­con­sciously agree to live. When satori hap­pens, it lasts a matter of sec­onds. A minute or more is ex­tra­or­di­nary. The best part though, is that it never goes away.

Re­garding There Is A Moun­tain: be­fore satori, you per­ceive an ob­ject (in this case a moun­tain) as an ob­ject that ex­ists out­side of you. (“First there is a moun­tain.”) During satori, you per­ceive the moun­tain as one with your­self. (“Then there is no moun­tain.”)

Then, after satori, you per­ceive the moun­tain as a moun­tain – ex­cept that you are now aware that the moun­tain and you are one and the same. (“Then there is.”) So, Donovan Zen moun­tains snails garden gates and a hit single in the hippy-trippy Six­ties …

Avid Record Collectors price guide

As Donovan is not a major col­lec­table artist (shame), his records are not in big de­mand. The orig­inal press­ings of the single (Pye 7N-17403 in the UK and Epic 5-10212 in the US) can be pur­chased for $10-15 in NM con­di­tion on a reg­ular basis. Sim­ilar values nay be as­signed records from other coun­tries. The pic­ture sleeves are harder to find but usu­ally com­mands no more than $20 in NM con­di­tion.

 

Donovan_Mountain_Pye_DJ

Ex­cep­tions in­clude the promo/demo copy of Pye 7N-17403 (above) which has a much higher value: two copies that are reg­is­tered as having old on the In­ternet went for $45 in Ex­cel­lent con­di­tion in 2010, and $155 in NM in 2104.

 
 

Donovan_Mountain_PS_US
America Epic 5-10212. A very Six­tiesish let­tering but an unin­spiring piece from Epic’s graphics de­part­ment.

 
 

Donovan_Mountain_PS_France

France Epic 5-10212. The French sleeve is iden­tical to the US  ex­cept for the colors, which is bolder but less at­trac­tive.

 
 

Donovan_Mountain_PS_German1

Ger­many Epic 5-110212. Whoa! Even less in­spired than the above ver­sions! But they’re Ger­mans, right?

 
 

Donovan_Mountain_PS_Japan

Japan CBS LL-2090-C. Of course the Japanese would take the time to de­sign the most at­trac­tive sleeve and then spend a wee it more yen to man­u­fac­ture them. This sleeve is more sought after and con­se­quently more highly valued al­though I could not find in­for­ma­tion on re­cent sales.


 

Donovan_Mountain_PS_Germany_re

Ger­many Epic 5-110212. Part of a se­ries of back-to-back hits from the mid-’70s that used a generic de­sign such s this for a boat­load of artists.

 

Donovan_Mountain_header

FEATURED IMAGE: A painting by Chi­nese painter Shen Zhou ti­tled Poet On A Moun­tain (1500). It was apiece with a poem (trans­lated by Lau­rence Sickman):

White clouds en­circle the moun­tain waist like a sash,
stone steps mount high into the void where the narrow path leads far.
Alone, leaning on my rustic staff I gaze idly into the dis­tance.
My longing for the notes of a flute is an­swered in the mur­mur­ings of the gorge.



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I keep looking every­where, but what is the snail gate thing?!? I get the rest of the song. And who is juanita?!?