April 15, 1908
[“There was a boy…A very strange, enchanted boy….”]
His name was eden ahbez (yes, he writes his name in lowercase), he was born on April 15, 1908.
And, no, he is not a character in Game of Thrones.
In the late 40s, there was a rumor that there was a “hermit,” disenchanted and disillusioned with the world, supposedly “out-of-sync” with society, living in California in a cave under one of the L’s in the Hollywood sign.
No one really cared about this strange man, until one night in 1947, when someone tried to enter backstage at the Lincoln Theater in Los Angeles. Nat King Cole was playing there, and the man said he had something for Cole. Of course, the employees didn’t let the strange man see Cole, so, the story goes, he gave whatever he had with Cole’s manager.
What he had was a song sheet, which Cole would later take a look at. Cole liked the song and wanted to record it, but he had to find the strange man. When asked, the people who saw the man said he was strange, indeed, with shoulder-length hair and beard, wearing sandals and a white robe.
Cole finally tracked him down in New York City. When Cole asked him where he was staying, the strange man declared he was staying at the best hotel in New York – outside, literally, in Central Park. The song he gave Cole was titled, “Nature Boy.” It became Cole’s first big hit, and was soon covered by other artists through the years, from Frank Sinatra and Sarah Vaughan to Marvin Gaye and Lady Gaga, most recently.
Of course, the media went crazy about the strange, mysterious man who handed Nat King Cole one of the biggest hits during that time. Everyone went out to try to find out more about him.
What little they found was that he was once an orphan, who never stayed at one place very long, living in various foster homes. He explained he just never fit in and was always searching, for something.
[“They say he wandered very far…
Very far, over land and sea…”]
They found out he would hop freight trains and walked across country several times, subsisting solely on raw fruits and vegetables, then one day he completely vanished.
[“A little shy and sad of eye…
But very wise was he…”]
He finally showed up again in the Hollywood hills. When a policeman stopped the strange, long-haired man with beard, sandals, and robe, ahbez simply replied, “I look crazy but I’m not. And the funny thing is that other people don’t look crazy but they are.” And, mind you, this was before the time of so-called “hippies”, so he did look very strange indeed.
[“And then one day…
One magic day he passed my way…”]
He then showed up backstage at Nat King Cole’s concert in Los Angeles, to present him with the song, “Nature Boy.” No one seems to really know why he selected Cole, there were some rumors that he came out of hiding when he began to hear about the racism going on and trouble throughout the world, and he thought “King” was the best person at that time to pass his message along.
[“While we spoke of many things…
Fools and Kings…”]
As previously shared on the Peace Page, Nat King Cole had overcame racism, harassment, and threats, his children’s dog was killed, and, he had to explain to his children how people could deface their lawn by burning the word ‘n*****’ on it.
King’s recording of the song would receive wide acclaim and also introduced him to more white listeners. According to Stephen Cook from AllMusic, the song transformed Cole into “one of the most famous and beloved pop singing stars of the postwar years.”
When ahbez was asked about racism, he simply replied, “Some white people hate black people, and some white people love black people, some black people hate white people, and some black people love white people. So you see it’s not an issue of black and white, it’s an issue of Lovers and Haters.”
It was that theme of love that he continued to talk about, what was missing in the world, and what would be needed in the future if we are to survive.
Although ahbez would receive royalties based on King’s recording of his song, reports were that he gave half of whatever he earned to others.
ahbez would eventually get his message out, especially after the counter-culture finally caught up with him and the hippie movement began, when other artists such as Donovan, Grace Slick, and the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson sought him out. He also wrote songs for Eartha Kitt and had another song recorded by Sam Cooke. “Nature Boy” would receive a special Grammy Award in 1999 for its “qualitative or historical significance”.
There have been many other interpretations of the song, including a version sang by David Bowie in the movie, “Moulin Rouge!”
In 2009, Congressman Bill Aswad recited the last lyrics of the song before the Vermont House of Representatives at the passing of his state’s same-sex marriage bill in ’09.
Author Raymond Knapp described the track as a “mystically charged vagabond song” whose lyrics evoked an intense sense of loss and haplessness, with the final line delivering a universal truth, described by Knapp as “indestructible” and “salvaged somehow from the perilous journey of life.”
[“This he said to me…
The greatest thing you’ll ever learn…
Is just to love and be loved in return.”]