Singing Songs of Love Essay

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The terrifying new trailer for The Conjuring, the new horror movie from Saw director James Wan, makes use of the usual horror movie tropes when it comes to music. There’s lots of silence, then sudden stabs of discordance whenever a demon jumps out. But there’s one exception to its straightforward approach: The use of “Hurdy Gurdy Man,” a bit of ’60s psychedelic pop from British folk singer Donovan.The effect is creepy, but not entirely surprising: Anyone who’s seen David Fincher’s Zodiac, in which the song is associated with the titular real-life serial killer, probably can’t listen to the song without a tingle shooting down their spine. Did Zodiac transform “The Hurdy Gurdy Man,” or was he creepy all along? It may be hard to imagine now, but there was in fact a time when most listeners thought the “Hurdy Gurdy Man” sounded like a pretty nice dude. After all, he’s just a short and plump little guy (a “roly poly man”) who plays a quaint centuries-old instrument (the hurdy gurdy), “singing songs of love.” And there’s hardly anyone less sinister than Donovan, a flower child famous for such sunny, ad-friendly hits as “Mellow Yellow” and “Sunshine Superman.” Donovan even said “Hurdy Gurdy Man” was about the Maharishi, whom he studied under alongside the Beatles. (He wrote the song before many in their circle soured on the guru, resulting in John Lennon’s “Sexy Sadie” a few months later.) Donovan even felt positive enough about the “Hurdy Gurdy Man” that, for the subtitle of his 2007 autobiography, he used the name to describe himself. Early cover versions tended similarly to focus on the song’s sunny side. Take for example, Steve Hillage, who recorded the song in 1976. In this filmed, live performance you can see how he smiles through just about the whole song, while the audience claps

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