There is a statement in the introduction to John Denver's autobiography that goes something like this: “What Frank Sinatra was to the 1940s, and Elvis was to the 1950s, and the Beatles were to the 1960s, John Denver was to the 1970s – a phenomenon.” Truer words were never said. And John deserves to be placed near those music greats. I'm not sure if this is still true, but I was told that the number one best-selling LP in the history of RCA records is “John Denver's Greatest Hits.” I wouldn't be surprised – I keep finding it in old used record bins! Hey, that means a lot of people liked it. Just like the Fleetwood Mac “Rumors” LP and “Frampton Comes Alive!” :) It's a classic of its time, but John is really a classic for all times. His music reaches beyond his life and into many other lives.
For example, consider the beautiful “Annie’s Song.” Originally, the song described the feelings John had for his wife. Well, they later divorced. You would think it would be a pain for him to play “Annie’s Song” after that. But Annie’s Song wasn’t just about Annie. It was about the love we feel for many things. And as John wrote, it could just as easily have been a prayer.
John had a great voice. Check out the little-known track “Dearest Esmeralda” as a great example of his ability to bring out the best in a song. And I wish I could still sing the high notes in “Calypso.” It was so easy when I was eight. But John could still sing them years after the song came out.
He was a natural actor. Perhaps it's hard to appreciate how great he was in “Oh, God!” because he seemed as if he were just playing himself. In fact, even when he did play himself on the muppet specials, he seemed so natural that the muppets seemed all the more real. And he was naturally funny. He held his own with the muppets. Recall his great straight-man work as Gonzo talked about his mold garden. And the very funny “dog in the airplane trick” from the “Rocky Mountain Holiday” special. (This moment was edited out of the video release, darn it!) It involved John curing Rowlf’s hiccups by taking him on an airplane ride. After doing a few tricky airplane maneuvers, John cries out:
JOHN: Hey Rowlf! I just figured it out! When you push the lever backward, the airplane goes down!
ROWLF: He’s kidding me! Tell me you’re kidding me!!
JOHN: And when you push the lever forward, the airplane goes up! Far out!
John once pointed out that his music differs from traditional country music in that it focuses more on the “Western” side of “Country and Western.” You need only listen to John's music and compare it to more traditional country music to hear the difference. John's songs are sometimes hard to define, except as “good songs.” Some very happy memories involve visiting my grandparents' beautiful home and me listening to the “Windsong” album in the background. The equally great “I Want to Live” album is still one of my favorites. When John teamed up with the muppets for a Christmas special and album, it was a historic entertainment event at our house!
The first concert I ever went to was John Denver - not long after "I want to live" was released. Yes, of course my mom and dad took us. :) I remember just a few tiny moments from it: John singing “It Amazes Me”; Someone in the crowd crying out as John was tuning up, “I love you, John!” John's reply, “I love you, too!” and the crowd's laughter. I remember sitting on the stairway heading up to our seats (yes, we were all sitting down), then going home early (it was way past bedtime, you know), and stopping on the way out to hear John sing “Country Roads.” Actually, John is still one of the few “big stars” I can say that I've seen in person. I'm thankful I got to go.
John and I had something in common (beyond wearing glasses sometimes, that is). He enjoyed times of solitude. Part of the reason he wanted to preserve the wilderness is that he wanted others to enjoy those times as well. Now obviously, you don't need to be in the wilderness to have moments like that. But it helps. And so does John's music.
John understood that some things in life go beyond our ability to relate them. In his liner notes to the “Windsong” album, he wrote something which could almost serve as his epitaph. He wrote that he was going to record the sound of the wind in between the tracks on the album, but found that it was impossible to capture the exact sound he was searching for. He wished for us that someday, we would be able to get away to a very quiet place, and listen to the true sound of the wind for ourselves.
May we all get to hear what he heard.
FAVORITE JD ALBUMS: John Denver's Greatest Hits volumes 1 and 2; Windsong; I Want To Live; The Rocky Mountain Collection; Seasons of the Heart; John Denver & the Muppets: A Christmas Together
FAVORITE JD SONGS (take a deep breath, here we go): Take Me Home, Country Roads; Follow Me; Annie's Song; For Baby (For Bobbie); Rocky Mountain High; Fly Away; Spirit; Looking for Space; Aspenglow; Late Nite Radio; Singing Skies and Dancing Waters; How Can I Leave You again; Thirsty Boots; I Want To Live; Dearest Esmeralda; Calypso; This Old Guitar; A Baby Just Like You; Alfie/It's in every one of us; Noel: Christmas Eve 1913; Perhaps Love; Heart to Heart; Shanghai Breezes; For You; Dreamland Express; Rhymes & Reasons; Grandma's Feather Bed; Garden Song; Flying For Me; Wild Montana Skies; Eagles and Horses; It Amazes Me; To the Wild Country; Catch Another Butterfly; Darcy Farrow; The Eagle and the Hawk; Ballad of Spiro T. Agnew; Matthew; Leavin’ on a jet plane & many more I have forgotten to list.
JD ON VIDEO: “The Wildlife Concert”; “John Denver: A Song's Best Friend”; “Nature: John Denver: Let this be a voice.” “John Denver & The Muppets: Rocky Mountain Holiday”; “Oh, God!” “Muppet Show: John Denver”;
NEEDS TO BE ON VIDEO: “John Denver & the Muppets: A Christmas together”; “John Denver: Rocky Mountain Christmas”; “Carpenters: First TV Special (John as guest)”;