I Got The Earth Day Blues

Originally posted April 22, 2008

Well, it’s Earth Day.

I would guess, without really digging too deeply into it, that most of us are more environmentally aware in 2008 than we were in 1970, when the first Earth Day was observed. It seems to me that we did a decent job for a while cleaning things up, being better stewards of this place where we live. And then, I think, a lot of people, many of them in the United States – especially those who make the rules or know those who make the rules – decided that taking care of the planet we live on wasn’t as important as using the planet to make money. And we’ve got a lot of work to do, again.

That’s a very simplistic exposition, I know. But I think in broad strokes, it’s accurate. I’m not really concerned with details this morning – an oddity for me. I’ve never been too deeply involved in the environmental movement, but I’ve tried to do my part on the small scale of everyday living: recycling; driving smaller, more fuel-efficient cars; riding my bike or taking the bus instead of driving when I lived in areas where that worked. On the other hand, I look around my study as I write this blog and I see so much plastic, so much stuff that – when I someday dispose of it – will linger for years and decades, maybe centuries, without breaking down back into its constituent parts. How does riding a bicycle or a bus with any regularity balance off all that? And I am only one of billions.

I know. This is supposed to be a blog about music. Well, I guess I’m singing the Earth Day Blues.

Being aware of the damage we’re doing to our planet is fine. Awareness can be the first step to change. But in my scrapbook – somewhere in my closet – is the armband I wore on the first Earth Day thirty-eight years ago. We’ve been aware for a long time. Has that done any good? Being glum this morning, I’m inclined to answer, “Very little.”

I can’t help but chuckle mordantly when someone who means well tells me – on television or radio or wherever – that we have to save the planet. You know what? The planet will be just fine. The Earth will continue to revolve around the sun and rotate once every twenty-four hours. But unless we take better care of it, we won’t be here to see the sunrise. It’s not the Earth that’s in peril; it’s us.

As I think about that gloomy prospect, I turn to music, as I generally do. And I hear in my head: “Before the breathing air is gone; before the sun is just a bright spot in the nighttime . . .” The song is “Out In The Country,” written by Roger Nichols and Paul Williams and recorded by Nichols and the Small Circle of Friends in 1968.

Others who recorded the song included the 5th Dimension, someone named Brian Gari, R.E.M., Paul Williams himself, and, of course, Three Dog Night, who included it on It Ain’t Easy in 1970 and released the song as a single, which went to No. 15 that autumn. Here’s the original version and Three Dog Night’s cover.

Roger Nichols & The Small Circle of Friends – “Out In The Country” [1968]

Three Dog Night – “Out In The Country” [1970]

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