Have you ever “had a moment” with a song? I’ve talked about this recently, this phenomenon of hearing a song a hundred times but the 101st time you hear it something clicks. May be your mood or your location or your age but suddenly a song will take on new meaning quite out of the blue.
This has happened to me before and it has happened again. I was watching the Frank Sinatra concert Live from Festival Hall from 1971 and he sang a song he had recently recorded called “I Will Drink the Wine”. It is one of “those” Sinatra songs, one you don’t rate particularly high but it has a substance and comes with its own mood or vibe, one that you enjoy from FS every now and then. After I watched that concert, I got my CD copy of Sinatra and Company out, the album with “I Will Drink the Wine” on it, and played it. The LP is made up of two different halves and after the gorgeous Jobim side of the record came the Don Costa tunes. This division always makes this album a little funny for me but each side taken on it’s own has it’s quality. Once the album was done, there wasn’t much time left on that Sunday evening and with another Monday morning staring me in the face I chose a couple of tunes to play again. One was “Don’t Ever Go Away” and the other was “Bein’ Green”. I had heard something in this latter tune the first time around and sure enough there it was again when I listened the second time. Then something happened and I played it over and over again.
It was early days on Sesame Street and show-runner Jon Stone approached composer Joe Raposo. Here is a name I touched on in my article on Roosevelt Franklin. When years ago I noticed Raposo’s name showing up in the credits of some Sinatra CDs I was intrigued. I knew of him as a composer of “children’s songs”; what was the Chairman doing recording his work? Well, I learned that Joe Raposo was a noted composer of all kinds of songs and his work on the early days of Sesame Street helped set the musical style of the show. Jon Stone had brought Raposo in when Sesame Street got off the ground and on the day it was decided that “we need a song for the frog”, Stone ran down some ideas for a tune that would be sung by Kermit the Frog. Raposo created “Bein’ Green” and Kermit – and Jim Henson – debuted it in January of 1970.
When I first came across this tune on Sinatra and Company, again, my eyebrows went up; how was this going to sound, Frank doing “Kermit’s song”? But when I really listened to it I understood a little better that in sentiment and style it fit right in with the gentle and contemplative singer-songwriter style of the early 1970’s. On the night I played this song over and over again, it was the lyrics that really touched me.
"It's not that easy bein' green having to spend each day the colour of the leaves when I think it could be nicer bein' red or yellow or gold or something much more colourful like that"
Right away, you can forget about this being a frog singing about the colour he is. What I hear is someone speaking about blending in with their surroundings, not standing out, being overlooked. I hear a song about someone’s introverted personality, someone who has never been the type to assert themselves or to draw attention to themselves. Someone a little more cerebral.
"It's not easy bein' green it seems you blend in with so many other ordinary things and people tend to pass you over 'cause you're not standing out like flashy sparkles on the water or stars in the sky"
This got me thinking about the times I would walk my two boys to their first days of various school years. Every one of those days was tense for me as I’m sure it was for my kids. I was nervous for them; would their friends be in their class? Would they have good teachers? Would they be OK when the bell rang and we would leave them? This is when this song began to take on a personal resonance.
I remember on those mornings there would always be kids who were tearing around the school yard already playing and yelling. I remember thinking that it would be easier for my kids, I suppose, if they were like that. Immediately though I was glad they weren’t. My kids stood by us quietly, taking it all in. I was glad they were thinking, processing as opposed to just running. My kids may have been the colour green, blending in with their surroundings, not flaming brightly yellow.
"But green's the colour of spring and green can be cool and friendly like and green can be big like an ocean or important like a mountain or tall like a tree"
Now we’re taking about character. “BUT”, the lyric says. The word means that there is about to be a different take offered that will oppose what has gone before. BUT. Green is the colour of spring, the season of rebirth, of things coming to life again. Green can be comforting, pleasant and genial. It can be substantial. The enormity of the ocean or a mountain can sometimes be intangible and hard to fathom but its grandiosity cannot be denied. So, there is a quality in a person bein’ green. It suggests something is going on under the surface.
"When green is all there is to be it could make you wonder why but why wonder, why wonder?"
“When green is all there is to be” When green is all there is to be. I am what I am and I cannot be anything else. I am who I am. I can only be who I am. And I accept that, I accept myself. I assess myself honestly and I am satisfied. I could wonder what it would be like to sparkle like the stars but what is the point in that? That is not who I am. Green is all there is to be. All there is to be.
"I am green and it'll do fine it's beautiful and I think it's what I wanna be"
I claim my identity and I am happy with it. More than that, who I am is beautiful and I find acceptance. Now that I have found it, I am content to go on. But having gained this affirmation, does happiness automatically follow? It’s not as simple as that.
There is still a sadness in the reading of the lyric, a wistfulness. The song has been recorded many times and almost without exception it is performed as a contemplative ballad. The sadness comes from the unfortunate fact that despite the satisfaction that comes from making the choice to be who you are there is now work to be done. It can still be a daily job to remind oneself that this acceptance has occurred. One must be vigilant and own this acceptance everyday. And remember to apply it to other people. Speaking of other people…
The melancholy really lies in the fact that the world is the way it is. Sometimes people will form a perception of you based on what they see and this is unnatural, it shouldn’t be that way. It should be a given that people get to know one another before forming opinions but that is not always the case. Joe Raposo’s lyric depicts a weary acceptance, although that in itself is a victory of sorts.
Frank Sinatra was one of the first artists to record “Bein’ Green” after Kermit and Jim Henson debuted it in 1970. It has become a standard – one of the two, with “Sing”, that Raposo wrote – and one that was later recorded notably by Lena Horne, Diana Ross, Ray Charles and Tony Bennett. Interesting to note that Van Morrison – who barley ever recorded a song he didn’t write – included it on his 1973 LP Hard Nose the Highway. Van – ever the soul singer – is one of the only artists who jazzes the song up some.
Perhaps it could be said that this song would not have found an audience any other time but the early 1970’s when sensitive songs were in vogue. At time of release, the Children’s Television Workshop said the song was a “poignant realization of (one’s) own dignity and worth”. It was soon declared a powerful message about race, as well with one journalist positing that you could replace “green” with “black”. I feel like it is a wonderful reminder that it is OK to be moved by a children’s song rendered by a puppet.
“Bein’ Green” touched me that Sunday evening. Everything coalesced and I was susceptible to being affected emotionally; the work week looming, spending some time with a favourite singer and then hearing a song that conjured memories of a cherished television show I watched as a child. Then came a father’s cherished memories of his kids – one of whom has a particular fondness for Kermit – and a feeling of happiness at the way they turned out. See what one 3-minute song can do?