I was thinning out my old collection of vinyl records when I decided to play The Brothers Four album. I find I play more and more folk music, usually edgier than theirs, yet I was stunned by the beauty of their hit songs: Greenfields,” which Google says was #2 on the pop charts in 1960, and their fourth single, “The Green Leaves of Summer,” another big hit featured in a John Wayne film The Alamo, which they sang at the 1961 Academy Awards. Both songs sang of nostalgia for a lush green world. We Baby Boomers weren’t necessarily living in one in 1960, but there were still more wooded fields around then, before condos and strip malls existed.
I grew up in Amherst NY, Barrington Rhode Island, and Mount Lebanon Pa.–all suburbs surrounded by extensive wild woods which I played in ALL the time. Grad school was spent in rural 18th century Connecticut, soon followed by six years in the Santa Barbara mountains. Now I live on a wooded hill in a mountain range running through one of the biggest metropolises in the world. I’m glad I get to have both that way! So why do I still long for some lost paradise when I hear that music?
Previous generations were busy eradicating wilderness–my Dad remembers Gypsies building out the streets of Amherst. He would take us tykes into the quarries where the thruway would later run, to find arrow heads and glacier markings… Now when we wrestle with the mental health of the nation, I feel the lack of the natural alpha waves produced by forests, and wonder about the generations who never had a touch of daily wilderness nearby.
But what hits me the most when hearing these gorgeous green ballads is how they were hit songs on the radio–played ad nauseum. Can you imagine them making it today? Coffee House Folk music was both hip and mainstream at the time. We ALL listened to these songs together. Everybody. These ethereal male harmonies, so innocent, so American, with folk guitar accompaniment, still have the power to sooth the human spirit and create a whole world to inhabit–in a song—in our heads.
In writing this piece I discovered that “The Green Fields of Summer” was written by Dimitri Tiomkin, composer of “Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darlin” the haunting theme of “High Noon.” He had 22 Oscar nominations and four Oscars…
Green Leaves of Summer
A time just for planting, a time just for ploughing.
A time to be courting a girl of your own.
Twas to good to be young then, to be close to the earth,
And to stand by your wife at the moment of birth.
Green fields are gone now, parched by the sun.
Gone from the valleys where rivers used to run.
Gone with the cold wind that swept into my heart,
Gone with the lovers who let their dreams depart.
Where are the green fields that we used to roam.
I think there remains a Boomer generation who still resonate with these images and live in a green world in their minds, in the midst of the concrete and billboards. I think the tradition of this eco-paradise museum in our minds is carried on–in songs like Sting’s “Fields of Gold”, and in the many young people who want to connect with Mother Earth–this living magnetic being that we humans adhere to from all angles. I am so grateful that I had this ethereal music to help me float through my adolescence!