By the Landlord
The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.
Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too,
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.
Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh. – Philip Larkin
The pine stays green in winter... this is wisdom in hardship. – Norman Douglas
Relationships are like traffic lights … I can only exist in one if it's green. – Taylor Swift
Be advised my passport's green. No glass of ours was ever raised to toast the Queen.
- Seamus Heaney
As autumn begins to take its beautiful grip, a colour clings on against the turn of yellows and browns. But what does green mean? It’s the hue of good health, the glow that means go, the fluorescence of fertility, of life and growth. But it also represents pallid, unripe inexperience and immaturity, it could be a sickly shade, green around the gills, or the deadly dye of jealousy in Shakespeare’s “green eyed monster”. So this week green is the colour, but what colour is that exactly? Could it be the dirty colour of money? The complexion of camouflage – of animals, birds, or violence – the Green Berets? Lincoln green? Racing green? The Green Man? Pea, olive, moss or lime green? It covers a forest of associations, from the grass that’s always greener on the other side, to Francis Bacon’s festering: “A man that studieth revenge keeps his own wounds green.”
Green primarily though, is the colour of beauty, perhaps the best of them all – relaxing on the eye, it is the umbrella of shade, the canopy of life, covering “this emerald isle”, this green planet, Earth.
Green Earth? Obviously green is highly associated with the environment and all international versions of the Green Party, and the biggest and most critical issue in our history. All political parties should be green, whatever their stance on health service, the economy or anything else. It’s a no-brainer, right? But until climate change actually affects bank accounts, it appears short-sightedness and short-termism will continue to take us to the brink. It's a huge issue, with plenty of songs about this too, but on this let’s go back to the 1973 film, Soylent Green - one of the first to portray a dystopian future suffering from pollution, overpopulation, depleted resources, poverty, and year-round humidity due to the greenhouse effect. Things get so bad the population survives on processed food rations, including "soylent green” a green wafer-type biscuit advertised to contain "high-energy plankton” - or is it!? Things are so bad we have to rely on Charlton Heston, a NYPD detective to find out more. When Heston's about … we're all doomed.
But let us lighten the musical shade a little. Green is the colour of wry but nostalgic cosiness in the Kinks’ Village Green Preservation Society. So let us put our feet up on the bar’s virtual lawn and have tea and a listen. We don't serve Soylent Green biscuits at The Song Bar, I can assure you.
Or to take a different hue, let’s switch over to a dash of Clem Snide. Out of melancholy their song climbs towards a green hope of happiness, deliciously referencing the great soul singer Al Green: “Summer will come, with Al Green and sweetened ice tea,/ Summer will come and be all green with the sweetness of thee.”
But green isn’t just about summer. Evergreens hold it all year. Green parakeets, escaped several years ago from pet shop or a household in southwest London, began to breed on the banks of Teddington, or somewhere round there, and then, hearing the rumour that I had a massive bag of nuts, two flew right over the capital to my local park in northeast London. Now we have a squawking 12 pairs who stay all winter and sometimes come the feeder at my back window. In no time they will be an indigenous bird in Britain. Watch out!
The science bit? Green is the colour that is evoked by light with a predominant wavelength of around 495–570 nm between blue and yellow - and all the mixtures and shades between. Chlorophyll is its biggest creator, the chemical by which plants photosynthesise and convert sunlight into chemical energy.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the modern English word green comes from the Middle English and Anglo-Saxon word grene, from the same Germanic root as the words "grass" and “grow”. In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, the colour of clothing displayed social status. Green was worn by merchants, bankers and landed gentry. So not always good then. Red was the colour of the nobility. So I suppose us plebs just wore brown. Which brings us once again to a dash of Blackadder. A nugget of the purest green:
Chinese culture generally only associates green with the positive, as the symbol of fertility and happiness. Green tea certainly sorts me out. In some languages, including old Chinese, Thai, old Japanese, and Vietnamese, the internet tells me that same word can mean either blue or green. The Chinese character 青 (pronounced qīng in Mandarin, ao in Japanese, and thanh in Sino-Vietnamese) has a meaning that covers both blue and green; blue and green are traditionally considered shades of "青" which to me looks like a nice treehouse.
Green is also the most important colour in Islam. It is the on the banner of Muhammad, and is common in the flags of Islamic countries, representing the lush vegetation of Paradise. It is also the big colour of Gaelic Ireland, and the Irish flag. Rather comically, Olympic officials tend to get it confused with others at medal ceremonies, and Irish athletes have found themselves singing with tears of joy, or laughter, their own anthem watching the flag of Ivory Coast or somewhere else going up instead.
But whatever your song suggestions associated with this colour, don’t forget there’s a huge swathe of music that associates with something else that’s green. Weed. Finally then it’s time to pass that dutch with that brilliant innovator Missy Elliott, whose song really kicks in after the intro.
So as you leaf through your musical collections and the ideas grow, place your song nominations in the cutting box below for this week’s great guest gardener, the sapient Severin, to gather in your harvest for a playlist published next Wednesday. Last orders will be called on Monday evening. Now the traffic lights are changing, so let’s … go!
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