Rediscovering John Denver

This image of John Denver really sums it up for me. If we do not act now, all that will remain is memories of our past.

Rediscovering John Denver (a work in progress)

Preface

October 12, 2015
It’s looking like today is not going to be a very good day…  for one, it is the 18th anniversary of John Denver’s untimely death.  A tragic moment for humanity, whether we realize it or not.  I woke up this morning and decided to write this book for John but, when I woke up my computer to access my files, I discovered I had accidentally deleted them a day earlier.  ALL of my personal files. Nearly everything I’ve done for the past ten years… all my data, research, ruminations, graphics, songs, poems, articles, on every subject of interest for a decade… all gone in a poof.  Thousands of hours, thousands of files.  And it’s my own damn fault.  I did it.  In a moment of mindlessness, while cleaning up my desktop, I unwittingly sent the single file containing all that stuff to the trash… and emptied it.  But, I cannot whine about it… I am the one who chose not to back up my files.  Ever.  Gone is gone, and that stuff is gone.  Oh well, worse things have happened.  No use crying over spilled milk… best to move on.

Moving on…
I have always resisted writing a book.  I’ve often been compelled to write, but could not imagine having the mindfulness, focus and dedication to produce a book.  I have always viewed it as daunting and intimidating and never felt I had what it took to string together enough thoughts to complete a coherent work of any length.  This still remains to be seen.  But, considering the state of the world today, and where we might be if we still had John’s voice speaking for the things he believed in, the good of all, in this case I’m willing to take the plunge… sink or swim.

Born in the mid 1950s, I was just coming of age socially and intellectually when Peter, Paul and Mary hit the charts with Leaving On a Jet Plane.  After John released it himself a couple of years later, and was revealed as the writer of the song, I would come to think of him as a songwriter turned singer.  Being too young for the college scene, I was clueless about his presence in the Chad Mitchell Trio, other than a stray song or two, that may have come my way via one of my more progressive junior high school teachers.  Much to my shame, it would be the second decade of the 21st century before I would even discover John had a performing career prior to his solo success.  Not to mention the true depth of his being, which I had vastly underestimated all those years.

I’ll blame it on the inexperience of youth.  I fancied myself a pretty hip chick… it was the late 60’s, early 70’s, and my flower power was burgeoning.  Sex, drugs and rock & roll… I was a precocious teenager and, like most teenagers, thought I knew it all.  I did like John’s music but, thanks to his over usage of the term “far-out”, I came to assume he was a phony hipster.  Something just didn’t ring quite true to me and, being the judgmental little shit that I was, I decided he was faking it… that he didn’t really live on the same page as “oh so enlightened” little me.  I think now that I was wrong, and right, but we’ll get back to that later.

Like I said, I did like his music and, as it turned out, it would very soon become a great source of comfort to me.  I had had the privilege of spending the latter half of my childhood in the great Sierra Nevada mountains of California, at the very beautiful Lake Tahoe.  When I was 15 my mom divorced her third husband and I was sent to live with my grandparents (again)… landing in the purgatory of the southern San Joaquin Valley.  Quite a cultural change from my idyllic days in the Tahoe Basin.  Art had always been my constant companion, so I focused on that at my new high school.  As it turned out, my crafts teacher was a pretty cool fellow who understood the value of music in opening the gate of creativity… that whole right brain thing.  And, he was a John Denver fan so, everyday in class, I would play the Rocky Mountain High album.  I missed my mountains so very much and John’s imagery was a nice way to go there while working on projects.  A few years later, when working for the Forest Service in Idaho, John’s music would again offer entertainment and comfort.

Many years later I would watch a video where the MC of a benefit for Alaskan environmentalist Mardy Murie introduced John by telling a story about a job in Alaska, where he and a co-worker would spend several months camping together, with the only entertainment being a cassette player and a single tape… John Denver’s Greatest Hits… Volume Two.  As a testament to John’s music, the fellow introducing John revealed that he still liked every song on that album.  My experience was very similar… working on a Forest Service survey crew, resurveying in old mining claim coordinates in the rugged Idaho Rocky Mountains, our only entertainment was a cassette that one of the other crew members had brought along.  It was the album with Annie’s Song. Now, over 40 years later, I can still remember driving down the road with that music playing.  I remember the road, the look and feel of the day, where we were along the way… everything.  It’s still quite vivid in my memory.  And, I still love Annie’s Song.

But, time moved on and so did I.  I eventually married and began a family.  Not having really been a fan (never even bought one of John’s albums), I drifted away and moved into country a’la George Strait, Dwight Yoakam, Ricky Skaggs, Emmylou Harris and the “other” Hank Jr.… as well as blues and classic rock.  Other than Oh God and John’s forays into TV, I barely gave him a second thought… again, much to my shame.  I still remembered how his “far-outs” didn’t ring true and was still uncomfortable with that, but his dedication to nature and wildlife rang very true with me, so I really enjoyed his TV specials and gained more respect for him as a human being.  And, he really was a likable guy.

Over the years, as family life took more and more of my attention, I nearly forgot about John.  The only things I remember about him, from the mid 1980’s on, is his appearance at the PMRC Senate hearings on record labeling, speaking against ‘censorship of any kind”… and the day he died, on October 12, 1997.  It had been years since I even thought about him but, like the day JFK died and the day we supposedly went to the moon, I can remember exactly where I was, what I was doing and who was there, when the news of John’s death was broadcast.  I can even remember what I said… “Of all the celebrities to lose… why him?  We need people like him!”  I knew, even then, what a monumental loss to the preservation of our biosphere this was.

At the time, I was working at a small town newspaper as assistant production manager, and one of my fellow graphic artists had known John personally, in Aspen.  He was deeply saddened by the loss and commented that John was a really nice person.  But, again, I drifted away from John and his music.  Several more years would pass before I would be compelled to have another look at John Denver.  With the travails of our world today, I am so very grateful that I found him again.  His message of love, for all that dwell upon the face of this Earth, is eternally true.

Rhymes and Reasons

So you speak to me of sadness
And the coming of the winter
Fear that is within you now that seems to never end
And the dreams that have escaped you
And the hope that you’ve forgotten
And you tell me that you need me now
And you want to be my friend

And you wonder where we’re going
Where’s the rhyme and where’s the reason
And it’s you cannot accept
It is here we must begin
To seek the wisdom of the children
And the graceful way of flowers in the wind

For the children and the flowers
Are my sisters and my brothers
Their laughter and their loveliness
Would clear a cloudy day
Like the music of the mountains
And the colors of the rainbow
They’re a promise of the future
And a blessing for today

Though the cities start to crumble
And the towers fall around us
The sun is slowly fading
And it’s colder than the sea

It is written from the desert
To the mountains they shall lead us
By the hand and by the heart
And they will comfort you and me
In their innocence and trusting
They will teach us to be free

For the children and the flowers
Are my sisters and my brothers
Their laughter and their loveliness
Would clear a cloudy day
And the song that I am singing
Is a prayer to nonbelievers
Come and stand beside us
We can find a better way

But, there is much more to John Denver than meets the eye, as I would quickly discover.  From his birth on New Year’s Eve 1943, in Roswell New Mexico, to his death in Monterey Bay on October 12, 1997, much water would pass under the bridge that was his remarkable life.

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2 comments

  1. This is beautiful, Laura, and not surprisingly mirrors my same journey with him through the years almost exactly….the way he said FAR OUT was ALSO judged by MY know it all self in the same way…thought he was fake! (Willow always adored him) He has since been revealed to me personally as the beautiful soul and singer/lyricist wonder that is John Denver, a talented man who cared deeply for our planet of wonders.
    Thanks for writing this,
    Diane

    1. Thank you Diane! That’s the beauty of the internet, so much information floating around out there to be discovered/uncovered. If it hadn’t been for a chance stumbling onto a YouTube video of John, a couple of years ago I probably would still be in the dark about him. But, as so often happens, one video led to another… and another, and… pretty soon I had a whole new understanding of him. I would love to hear the story of how his inner beauty was revealed to you 🙂

      Speaking of inner beauty, I think your parents had a whole passel of Indigo Children, long before the term was around. I owe much of who I am to you and yours, and can never thank you enough for helping to set me on the paths I have followed in life.
      Much Love Always,
      Laura

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