Song Tunnel #1 by DJ Abi

My favorite song by Michael Jackson is hands down “Human Nature” from the 1982 record “Thriller.” The tune is haunting, sexy, sad and beautiful, and I’ve always admired the particularly androgynous way in which Michael expresses the amorous yearnings expressed in the lyrics.  The light and floating quality of the vocals is reminiscent of some of the great female arias of the classic American Soul era—the pining voice of Diana Ross comes to mind in particular for me.

“Human Nature” floats with buoyancy that the rest of “Thriller” doesn’t even come close to, in large part as a result of the song’s plaintive structure of question and answer, a discourse which in the end doesn’t add up to much and sounds even more damn mysterious in the end. This maddening mysteriousness, somewhat akin to the circular question and answer song “Que sera, sera”—is an excellent mirror to the true puzzle that was M. J. himself—always intimate, compelling, and totally unknowable as a person.

If they say,

Why, why, tell ’em that it’s human nature

Why, why, does he do it that way

If they say,

Why, why, tell ’em that it’s human nature

Why, why does he do me that way

I went on a “Human Nature” repeat listen binge recently when a guest on my Freeform show played the strange tune “Banana Boy” by the American original, Eden Ahbez. A bizarre moment even within the already weird world of the Exotica genre, Ahbez’s 1960 record “Eden’s Island,” combines beatnik sensibilities with the hedonism of 1960s lounge scene. Ahbez was a strange dude—according to some—the “first” hippie, if such a ridiculous designation is even thinkable.

According to Wikipedia: Living a bucolic life from at least the 1940s, he travelled in sandals and wore shoulder-length hair and beard, and white robes. He camped out below the first L in the Hollywood Sign above Los Angeles and studied Oriental mysticism. He slept outdoors with his family and ate vegetables, fruits, and nuts. He claimed to live on three dollars per week.

A certain aural headspace took shape over the course of the next week after my guest introduced me to Ahbez, as I obsessively listened to “Human Nature,” and “Banana Boy.” For some reason, in my head that is, the two songs somehow spoke to one another across space and time, but I’m still trying to figure out why exactly.

Buy my banana, fresh from the trees

Buy my banana

And you

Make me


Eden Ahbez was born in Brooklyn to Jewish Russian parents, and first became known because Nat King Cole landed a huge hit in Ahbez’s song “Nature Boy” in 1948. Ahbez was paid a handsome sum for the tune by the film industry, and gained a lot of notoriety through Nat King Cole’s success with it. If you don’t recognize the title immediately, I bet you will recall the unusual melody of “Nature Boy” after reading a snippet from the gnomic lyrics.

There was a boy

A very strange enchanted boy

They say he wandered very far, very far

Over land and sea

A little shy and sad of eye

But very wise was he

“Nature Boy” continued to be lauded by the industry, and was later covered by the likes of David Bowie, Lady Gaga, and Miles Davis.

My obsession about the unexpected synergy, harmonically and thematically, between M.J’s iconic song and Ahbez’s “Banana Boy” and “Nature Boy” became a little more comprehensible to me when I realized that “Human Nature” was written by none other than Steve Porcaro of the American rock band Toto—of the dubious “rains down in Africa” fame (same year as “Thriller”- 1982- the Toto song “Africa” from the regally-titled “Toto IV”).

Lest you have forgotten the unforgettably random lyrics of that 80’s watershed (get it, rains, ah…):

It’s gonna take a lot to drag me away from you

There’s nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do

I bless the rains down in Africa

Gonna take some time to do the things we never had

Hurry boy, she’s waiting there for you

I see Ahbez’s California trip of enchanted man-boys living in nature with bananas as planting a little tropical seed of exoticism (no doubt itself blown in from elsewhere further back in time) that took stubborn root in American pop music going forward, thus giving birth to Porcaro’s 1980s fantasies in “Human Nature” and “Africa”.

But where does that leave the virtuosic M.J., the ultimate, tragic “nature boy” of the last quarter of the 20th century?

In this triad of musicians, Porcaro (probably) ultimately takes the cake, as “Human Nature” is arguably the best song in this banana bunch.

However, even though M.J. is only performing someone else’s tune, the emotional quality of his genius performance speaks to the mythos of a “natural” and “innocent” man-boy that all these songs lucubrate about.

It’s a good answer to my ongoing question: WHY?  “that’s why.”

I like livin’ this way

I like lovin’ this way

Why why…

That’s why

DJ Abi hosts a radio show called “Studio Visit” for Portland artists, art professionals, and art lovers. Catch the show every other Sunday from 8-10 PM.