"I'll sing you twelve, O
Green grow the rushes, O
What are your twelve, O?
Twelve for the twelve Apostles …"
The twelve apostles? Nope. Can’t see that lot partying behind any green doors. Pearly gates possibly. The first recording below is, I think, my favourite version of the tune about the wild goings on, just the other side of a mysterious green barrier. Why green? I ask myself. Not often, I’ll admit.
I’ve discovered this week that green seems to have symbolised, over the years, almost everything you can imagine but perhaps here it is intended to imply freedom. Some readers nominating songs since the topic launch last Thursday have given literary origins for its use in this title. Some have suggested that it was the colour of the door to London’s first lesbian club. Then again, maybe sometimes green is just green.
It is a strange old colour though. A primary colour if you’re talking about light but not if you’re mixing paint. I did look up the reasons for this and that’s a good five minutes I’ll never get back. When I was a kid I always said that green was my favourite colour. You had to have one in those days. Do kids still feel the obligation to choose a colour and insist it’s their favourite?
It looks like you had to have one in the early nineteenth century when Wilhelm Muller wrote (English translation):
"I want to clothe myself in green, in green weeping willows,
My dear likes green so much.
I’ll search for a grove of cypresses, for a field of green rosemary
My dear likes green so much …
Dig me a grave in the meadow, cover me with green turf
My dear likes green so much.
No black cross, no colourful flowers, green, everything green all around!
My dear likes green so much."
Along comes Schubert to set this to music and the result is, to my ears, heavenly.
Green fingers. The nurturing touch of the experienced gardener. Coaxing forth green shoots; new life from the soil and all that. Not so sure about “groping a clammy handshake” or “with this hand, I thee bed”. Is there some hint of the sinister here? It’s Siouxsie, of course there is…..
Green with envy. Or jealousy. Which isn’t quite the same thing of course. Yahweh was a jealous god but he wasn’t too keen on the coveting. Agnes Obel’s song is inspired by the idea of envy but takes off into another realm:
“Envy is sort of a blind emotion and also, in a way, a creative emotion. I just wanted to describe it as an emotion that sort of takes over your mind, even if it is an emotion that is really created within your mind.”
Green says go. Start. Cross now. Action. Blackalicioustell us: “No more of that coulda woulda shoulda junk. No more waiting for inspiration innovation.” A bit late for that, mate. We’ve been going for some time now. Still, it’s nice to be told you’re doing the right thing. Step off the kerb and walk towards …
The Green Man: The old religion. Symbol of fertility. Possibly the original Robin Hood and Little John. Still seen in the architecture of some old Christian churches. XTC tell us he hasn’t gone away.
The poet, Robert Burns, divided young men into “the grave and the merry”. The grave pursued money and prestige, the merry pursued love. No prizes for which of these is symbolised by the green rashes. Green for youth and beauty. For a carefree life spent “among the lasses, o”.
Of course, the green of nature doesn’t always bring us such joy. Trees may be green but a forest can be a dark and threatening place. The recent film sequel to The Blair Witch Project relies on the primal fear of being lost in the woods. Many people have had recurring dreams of a situation like this. For the young Robert Smith it stood for the pursuit of an impossible ideal of love.
“Into the trees, suddenly I stop
But I know it's too late
I'm lost in a forest
The girl was never there
It's always the same
I'm running towards nothing….”
Rastafarians took red, green and gold as the colours to symbolise their faith. In the days when most lived in the rural outskirts, away from the city, some would wear green as camouflage. According to David Kirton, wearing the same garb in the city is to declare that you are in an army of peace.
Even in the city, we have our greenery. More managed, sculpted, even manicured but few of us could imagine life without the solace of a garden or a park. “Take me outside, sit in a green garden and I’ll fly on the wings of a butterly….taking my shoes off, walking on a carpet of green velvet. Dance in my garden like we used to.”
Of course, for many, Green is the colour of Ireland. A mixed blessing according to Mary Coughlan who laments the influence of church, rogue politicians and the resigned attitude that leads people to “have a good laugh at it all”. Mary loves her country. She loves it a lot more than some of the people she has offended over the years.
Greensleeves is an old English ballad, probably of Elizabethan origin. Many, maybe most, of us have heard and repeated the story that Henry VIII wrote the words to persuade Anne Boleyn into bed. There isn’t a scrap of evidence for this of course. There are, however, a number of explanations for the title. Most concerned with the wearing of green as a sign of promiscuity of even prostitution. Chaucer wrote that it was the colour of lightness in love. Nicely put, Geoffrey. I’ll settle for that. In the version I’ve picked – from the many nominated – we can thank a black American musician who discards the words and turns a simple little tune into something not just beautiful, but complex too. Manages to sound both old and new.
And ever more shall be so …
Good to go A-list:
Wynder K. Frog – Green Door
Franz Schubert – Die liebe Farbe (from Die schone Mullerin – sung by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau)
Siouxsie and the Banshees – Green Fingers
Agnes Obel – Golden Green
Blackalicious – Green Light: Now Begin
XTC – Green man
Eddie Reader – Green Grow the Rashes O
The Cure – A Forest
David Kirton – Green Camouflage
Laura Mvula – Green Garden
Mary Coughlan – My Land is too Green
John Coltrane – Greensleeves
Maggie Holland – A Proper Sort of Gardener
Green and pleasant B-list
Kermit – It’s Not Easy Being Green
Beyonce – Jealous
Amalia Rodrigues – Verde Verde
Creedence Clearwater Revival – Green River
The Good, the Bad and The Queen – Green Fields
Housse de Racket – Le Rayon Vert
Alison Krauss – Green Pastures
Goldfrapp – Crystalline Green
David Bowie – Moss Garden
Maximum Joy – White and Green Place
St. Paul and the Broken Bones – Grass is Greener
Corinne Bailey Rae – Green Aphrodisiac
Bardo Pond – Green Man
Wilson Picket – Don’t Let the Green Grass Fool You
Sibylle Baier – Colour Green
I’ve foregone the usual “guru’s wild card” pick as all three of the main contenders were nominated by others and I have been self-indulgent enough to A-List two of them. Shameless, that’s me.
Instead I’ll repost the link to one of treefrogdemon’s nominations. Just to clarify first, Joni’s Little Green, though nominated was not eligible as it had been previously listed for “songs that make you cry”. I suspect that if this song had been in the running for that topic it might have made the same list. Half-listened to it the first time and thought “that’s pretty good, not sure if it’s “green” enough for the list, bung it on the short list anyway”. Listened a second time and came over all unnecessary. Astonishing.
(Note to Marco – consider this one as part of the A-List, we’ll make it a baker’s dozen)
Maggie Holland – A Proper Sort of Gardener:
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