by Gerry Fialka
“Nature Boy,” one of the greatest songs ever written, was composed by Eden Ahbez, who hung out in Venice for a while in the 1950s and ‘60s. He slept in friends’ backyards, including behind the Blue House, the bungalow at 523 Ocean Front Walk & Sunset Avenue. It was built in 1901 and has housed pot shops and Snapchat offices in recent years. Currently Adam displays his flower arrangements on the steps. Bill Mitchell used to rent a room there in the ‘60s for ten dollars a week.
“Nature Boy” is timeless. Listen to the varied/heartwarming versions by Nat “King” Cole, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, John Coltrane, Sarah Vaughan, Grace Slick, Big Star, David Bowie, and Lady Gaga. LA’s music hero Preston Smith met and sang his version for Eden, who highly complimented Preston.
I recently interviewed Brian Chidester for my Youtube series Concerned Netizen. See and hear it at https://www.youtube.com/user/clintonthegeek. Brian has researched Eden Ahbez for over two decades now and recently produced the lost Ahbez album “Dharmaland.” He is an amazing “creative historian and a conjurer of lost worlds.” I was fortunate to have him present engaging events at Sponto Gallery years ago. He delves deep into transformation of humanity for the good of all and evokes the positiveness of the Venice community.
Brian has contributed the following regarding Ahbez:
Before there was “Nomadland” there was Eden Ahbez’s “Dharmaland.” He was the original van-dweller/freight train hopping hippie who for a time in the 1940s lived under the Hollywood Sign. He also lived in Topanga, Venice Beach, and in the caves around Palm Springs around that time. His song “Nature Boy” (1948) and proto-concept album “Eden’s Island” (1960) were both harbingers of the flower-power movement, and “Dharmaland” was written by Ahbez as the follow-up to “Eden’s Island.” It was intended as another song-suite/imaginary utopia by the artist, but because “Eden’s Island” failed to sell more than a hundred copies in 1960, and because Ahbez’s wife Anna contracted bone cancer then, the project never got past the sheet music stage.
Fast-forward sixty years and the “Dharmaland” sheet music was recovered by me at the Library of Congress and then subsequently recorded for the first time ever by the Swedish exotica quintet Ixtahuele. They not only orchestrated Ahbez’s original songs, now available on Subliminal Sounds Records, but also used his handmade drums and hard-carved flute on the album, as well as nine of his friends and former collaborators as guests. It was my great honor to produce this album and to bring Ahbez’s lost masterpiece back to life.
He was, as Gerry wrote, living in Venice around the time he wrote these songs, and he even stored his marimba at the home of singer/actress Myra Cohn who performed vocals on a 1963 recording of his titled “Monterey.” She and her daughter lived in a bungalow on Ocean Front Walk and Ahbez would stay with them from time to time, after his wife died, and also out on the beach in a sleeping bag. (He told other friends that he preferred to sleep in “the big room.”) He also played regular live gigs at the Venice West Cafe and Gas House in the sixties and even wrote a song about the latter in which its best lyric states: “Money isn’t everything and time isn’t real/What is important is the way that you feel.”
In this time of runaway capitalism, of pending ecological catastrophe, and of harassment towards minorities and the poor (both in Venice and all over this fair country), the voice of one of the original progenitors of universal love, equality, and conservation has returned like the echo of a lost pagan god. Indeed, Ahbez’s music reminds us that nature can still be our greatest teacher, and that “the greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.”
Big thanks to Brian Chidester for his dedication. For more info on Eden Ahbez music and films, visit: http://www.edenahbez.com