It’s officially winter here in the northern hemisphere but the other day, although it was chilly outside, there were fluffy white clouds hanging in a clear blue sky over the green green grass of the back garden lawn. Looking out from the cosy living room it could almost have been summer again. Suddenly my peripheral vision caught something flitting past the patio windows.
By the time my eyes had latched onto the movement whatever it was had already gone. The brain, a few centimetres behind the eyes in space and a few milliseconds behind in time, searched for a match in its movement database and found ‘butterfly’. Another millisecond later the search algorithm stalled. The verification procedures had reported an error: there are no butterflies at this time of year in England. It must have been a bird, probably a blue tit attracted by the seeds in the bird feeder.
The imagined butterfly was too elusive to catch and yet the flapping of its wings had caused a small storm in the chaotic atmosphere of the Crotchety mind. Blowing in that freshly-stirred wind there was this song by Bob Lind released in 1966¹.
It was a time when every pop song seemed to be worth listening to and Elusive Butterfly was no exception. It’s a pretty folk song that has been given the lustre of a pop song arrangement. It has a tune that appeals to all tastes, including your granny’s, and lyrics worthy of the poetry shelf in your local bookshop. Like many good songs the imagery is vivid: a brightly coloured butterfly seen from a bedroom window as it skips over a wildflower meadow and is pursued by a mysterious shadowy figure. Perhaps the apparition carries a butterfly net or perhaps he only wants to capture the fluttering beauty on camera. Either way he wishes us no harm.
Don’t be concerned, it will not harm you
It’s only me pursuing somethin’ I’m not sure of
Across my dreams with nets of wonder
I chase the bright elusive butterfly of love.
Also spinning in the eddies stirred up by those half-seen wings was a memory, tattered and faded with age. It was the memory of a small cardboard box some 20 cm square and 4 cm deep with a clear plastic lid. The box was fixed to my bedroom wall where most ten year olds would have posters of their comic book heroes. Pinned inside the box, on display for everyone to see, was the biggest butterfly I had ever seen, a butterfly with iridescent blue/green wings and a thing of the most exquisite beauty. It was one of my most treasured possessions.
Elusive Butterfly was Bob Lind’s only big hit. In the U.S. the song peaked at number 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and in the U.K. both Lind’s original recording and a cover version by Val Doonican reached number 5. According to this article the song has been covered by over 200 other artists; Spotify has versions by Cher, Petula Clark, Glen Campbell, Aretha Franklin, Dolly Parton, Hugh Masekela and quite a few others². The butterfly’s flight may have been brief but its exotic beauty lingers on in the ancient canyons of your mind.
- There’s also a longer, live version by the songwriter on YouTube here.
- Crotchety Man once owned Cher’s version on a vinyl single. The B-side was a song called You Better Sit Down Kids which is a heart-rending speech by a father to his children in which he tells them, “Your mother is staying, I’m going away”. That’s another great song.