Most of you probably recognize this song, but do you know the story behind the song?
This song was written by Eden Ahbez, one of the strangest songwriters of the pre-Hippie era. He was a beatnik poet, but more accurately a proto-Hippie, choosing to wear long hair, a full beard and long, white, flowing garments that promoted a Christ-like appearance. He lived in Griffith Park in Los Angeles and ate fruit, vegetables and nuts. Ahbez was born in Brooklyn in 1908, and he claimed to have been raised in an orphanage and to have crossed the US on foot 8 times before age 35. He moved to Los Angeles in the ’40s, lived on 3 dollars a week, and lectured on Hollywood street corners about Oriental mysticism.
Ahbez implored Nat King Cole’s manager to look at his manuscript of “Nature Boy.” Cole recognized the Yiddish melody, liked the lyrics and added it to his act. It was well received so Cole decided to record it. One problem: Cole and Capitol Records could not find Ahbez in order to secure the publishing rights. Finally they located Ahbez, camped beneath the first L in the “Hollywood” sign.
Nat King Cole recorded one other Ahbez song – “Land of Love.” Ahbez released his own album in 1960 called Eden’s Island. He spent time with Brian Wilson before The Beach Boys recorded Pet Sounds. Ahbez, his wife, Anna, and their son Zoma lived in Griffith Park with their bicycle, sleeping bags and a juicer. With their unusual lifestyle, the family became legendary.
So here’s another weird twist…when my mom was a college student in the 1940s, she spent a summer out in southern California. She saw Nature Boy! He was wandering the beaches, imparting wisdom, pre-hippie style.