Listen to the whisper of the cottonwood trees
The other day, early morning I was in my rocking chair on the porch. Slowly pitching back and forth, soaking in the warmth of the sun. Fields and pastures spread below, green and lush in summers glory. Somewhere in the distance a lone cow was bawling, otherwise all was still and quiet as could be. The words of an old song drifted through my mind, “I want to ride to the ridge where the west commences, and gaze at the moon till I lose my senses …” Yes that’s true. I’m grateful to be here in the mountains of northern New Mexico in the midst of so much natural beauty.
The song, Don’t Fence Me In by Gene Autry comes to my mind often. It’s an old favorite. Apparently there are a number of other folks interested in the tune also. An article I wrote in 2012 is searched out and read by several people every few days since then. Many are looking for the meaning of that song. That article is re-posted below. Enjoy.
Music that reflects a universal truth can resonate across generations and become timeless. As in any good art the meaning is interpreted by the individual or current situations of society at the time. Don’t Fence Me In has remained popular for almost 60 years and been recorded by numerous musicians. First sung as a traditional western about wide open spaces, then an appeal to avoid jail time, the song was also popular with GIs during WWII, as a political statement at the building of the Berlin Wall, taken on meaning of ethnic diversity, and continues to be find new nuances today. Timeless.
Originally written in 1934 for Adios, Argentina, an unproduced 20th Century Fox film musical, “Don’t Fence Me In” was based on text by a poet and engineer with the Department of Highways in Helena, Montana, Robert (Bob) Fletcher. Cole Porter, who had been asked to write a cowboy song for the 20th Century Fox musical, bought the poem from Fletcher for $250. Although it was one of the most popular songs of its time, Porter claimed it was his least favorite of his own compositions
The song was also made famous by the original “Singin’ Cowboy” Gene Autry ( A great American hero).That is the version I am most familiar with as a traditional western ballad and my all time favorite.
Ten years after it was first written, in 1944, Warner Bros. resurrected “Don’t Fence Me In” for Roy Rogers to sing in the movie, Hollywood Canteen.
The following year, the song was sung again as the title tune of another Roy Rogers film, Don’t Fence Me In (1945), in which Dale Evans plays a magazine reporter who comes to Roy Rogers’ and George ‘Gabby’ Hayes ranch to research a story which she is writing about a legendary late gunslinger. When it’s revealed that Gabby Hayes is actually the supposedly dead outlaw, Roy must clear his name. Rogers and The Sons of the Pioneers also find time to perform some songs, including the Cole Porter title tune.
“Don’t Fence Me In” was also recorded by Bing Crosby and The Andrews Sisters in 1944. Crosby entered the studio on July 25, 1944, without having seen or heard the song. Within 30 minutes, he and The Andrews Sisters had made the recording, which later sold over a million copies and topped the Billboard charts for eight weeks in 1944-45.
- David Byrne did a cover of this song in 1990 for a Cole Porter tribute album entitled Red Hot + Blue. Byrne performed what he describes as his “Brazilian” version of the song during his 2004 tour for the Grown Backwards album.
- The song was sung in the 1954 action movie “Hell and High Water.” Starring Richard Widmark
- Shortly after the Berlin Wall was erected in 1961, a communist-run East Berlin radio station called Ops used “Don’t Fence Me In” as the theme song for its nightly propaganda broadcast aimed at Allied soldiers based in West Berlin
- Steve Goodman performed the song, including on his album The Easter Tapes recorded during one of his annual visits with New York radio personality Vin Scelsa.
- Lynn Anderson recorded the song for her album Cowboy’s Sweetheart in 1992.
- Chumbawamba recorded a version of the song with lead vocals by Danbert Nobacon . A segment of the song featured on the unreleased album Jesus H. Christ that was later reworked to become Shhh! (1992), but “Don’t Fence Me In” did not feature on the final album cut.
- The first verse of the song was sung by Apu in The Simpsons episode “The Lastest Gun in the West”. “
- The song was featured in the 1999 film The Bachelor , which follows a sworn bachelor who is reluctant to marry.
- The song was used in the opening credits of the 2000 film Chopper .
- Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa’s character Eddie Sakamura sings it at a karaoke bar in the opening scene of the 1993 film Rising Sun. It is also played while the end credits roll.
- Australian male voice choir The Spooky Men’s Chorale have recorded this on their DVD album “Deep”
For me it is the lyrics written by Robert Fletcher up in Helena, Montana that still carry a personal resonance:
Adios amigos, Dohn