Sunday, May 15, 2005

Masturbation Narration: The Truth About Donovan's "Mellow Yellow"

Because I’ve been getting a lot of traffic from people interested in the gay reading of Elton John’s “Rocket Man” but also because I’ve been listening to my Best of Donovan CD a lot, I’ve decided to write about what that song “Mellow Yellow” seems to be about.

I’d guess a lot of people don’t think too much about it, and that might be because some of the lyrics are hard to understand. People are mostly familiar with the opening verse and the chorus.
I'm just mad about Saffron
Saffron’s mad about me
I’m just mad about Saffron
She’s just mad about me

They call me Mellow Yellow (quite rightly)
They call me Mellow Yellow (quite rightly)
They call me Mellow Yellow
Clear as day, huh? I think it's especially hard because Saffron isn’t a common name in America — it’s a spice, and one people could easily be quite mad about, I suppose. But knowing that Donovan is Scottish, I think it's safer to assume that Saffron is a girl. Really, all we can get from this well-known set of lyrics is that Saffron and the narrator like each other a lot and that people refer to the speaker as “Mellow Yellow.” The song doesn't really get risque until the next few verses.
I’m just mad about Fourteen
Fourteen’s mad about me
I'm just mad about Fourteen
She's just mad about me
And then the chorus again.
Born high forever to fly
Wind velocity nil
Wanna high forever to fly
If you want your cup our fill
And the chorus.
Electrical banana
Is gonna be a sudden craze
Electrical banana
Is bound to be the very next phase
This is where it gets a bit sticky. I'm told an urban legend abounded in the sixties regarding smoking a dried, rolled-up banana peel as a means of getting high. Looking around online, I saw quite a few people assuming that’s what the remarks about “born high forever to fly” were about, but Donovan says the song is actually about a fourteen-year-old girl exploring her sexuality and getting to the point where she will soon start using a vibrator — a yellow model called “Mellow Yellow.” So the high isn’t a drug high, it's a sexual one. This makes the last verse make a lot more sense, what with that whole “electrical banana’ business.

I love that this is what the song is about, if for no other reason than this interpretation makes the narrator the vibrator — a talking fucking vibrator. And one in a song that’s been so commercial successful for the last forty-some years.

As for the other interpretation of the song, I think Arrested Development might have been referencing it in the episode where they mention the sixties folk hit, “Big Yellow Joint” — as in “Big yellow joint, big yellow joint / I’ll meet you at the big yellow joint.” So the whole smoking a dried, rolled-up banana peel might have more cultural presence that I would have expected.

25 comments:

  1. Anonymous5:03 PM

    I'm surprised no one has commented on this so far.... If you listen to Donovan's "in Concert" LP - Live in Anaheim, CA in 1967, Donovan specifically states in the song: "I'm just mad about fourteen year old girls."
    I have often wondered if he was an over protective father to his own daughters considering this sentiment plus the fact that I've found that most mashers become overprotective dads.

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  2. Or, it could mean he's a pervert. I seriously doubt his comment about being mad about 14 year old girls has anything to do with fatherly love.

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  3. Anonymous9:48 AM

    Electrical Banana was actually a form of psychedelic art back in 1965 and this was a reference to the next "craze " after The Beatles and Carnaby Street.

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  4. Anonymous5:58 AM

    Mellow yellow is a yellow vibrator. The "electrical banana"

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  5. "Risque" requires an accent mark; I think you mean "commercially successful" and not "commercial successful"; it's "Donovan is from Scotland", not "Donovan is from Scottish"; you haven't explained what the word "Saffron" is about. But the fact that I've already spent 10 minutes of my time trying to tell you all that should tell you something... yes?

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    1. Lolz, u really told him. I hate that s*^t to, yo.

      James Broussard
      Assistant Professor of English

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    2. James,

      It's "too" not "to."

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    3. My professor never said yo either lol.

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  6. KDS..grammer nazis are douches...yes you!

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    1. Agreed. He didn't say it that way at all. He said; Donovan is Scottish!

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    2. Donovan is NOT Scottish. He is Scot.

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    3. Donovan is NOT Scottish. He is Scot.

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  7. Saffron is also an orange spice which makes food turn yellow. It's one of the most expensive spices in the world, but not particularly unusual to be a girl's name.

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  8. I love GRAMMAR police. If we didn't have them, we would be a generation of illiterates. ;)

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    1. It is a Heinz 57 language. Everyone has a certain way of speaking depending upon which region of the United States you live in. Then consider all the slang and Urban language that is thrown in the mix. It is an endless cycle of should and should not conversation. Ugh. Drives me crazy!

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  9. This is so neat! It's cool to hear a new theory about the song I was named after!

    Thanks for linking me to this! :)

    XO-Saffron Bacchus

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  10. Anonymous1:53 PM

    Could Donovan possibly been in love with a 14 year old girl at the time? He talks about how a yellow bananna is a craze at the time which ties into him saing "im just mad about a saffron" meaning it/she is his sudden craze at the time. A definition of mellow is: (of a person's character) softened or matured by age or experience. "Saffron" while using a vibrator could have matured her, causing him to fall for her. While at the same time he sings, "they call me mellow yellow". Which could tie into his friends telling him that this girl has softened him.

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  11. Nothing like a little over-analyzing to pass the time. And by the way, its: "If you want, your cup I WILL fill..." Electrical Banana for young Saffron!

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  12. Its "If you want, your cup I WILL FILL", (not "our fill,") actually. Serve up some Electrical Banana for young Saffron!

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  13. Anonymous6:38 PM

    Heroin is commonly yellow, and makes you quite mellow.

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  14. Donovan explained the myth of dried banana peel's being a psychedelic in his 2016 concerts. Promotional lie told to ST DJ by I believe Country Joe and the Fish to explain the big stoldn yard art banana on their flatbed truck as they rode thru town promoting an upcoming performance.

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  15. Apparently, the concept of smoking dried banana peel for its psychedelic effects was gag entry in The Anarchist Cookbook. Smoking banana peel in any form will not give the sought-after effects of any drug. However, a much older practice of allowing citrus fruits to rot and then smoking the mold that has formed on the outside is said to cause a hallucinogenic trip. It's also dangerous for health reasons, so one would have to be a fool to try it.

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  16. Donavan has stated that while hanging out with the Beatles he John and Paul used to look for ideas in magazines. The "Mellow Yellow" line came from a vibrator add in the back of a magazine. He stated this on the Howard stern show a couple years ago. McCartney performed on the album.

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  17. If you're looking for another good Donovan song to analyze...Sushine Superman. I love the sexual innuendos delivered in this rythmic psychedelically poetic masterpiece.

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