It has been said that you either like John Denver's music or you don't.
While I am definitely a fan of his today, I wasn't always. There's a story
there and I'd like to share it with you.
Back in the 1970s and early 80s, my musical tastes centered primarily
on progressive rock, which included such bands as Yes, Genesis,
Kansas, Styx, Electric Light Orchestra and Pink Floyd. While I certainly
knew who John Denver was through his popular songs like Thank God
I'm A Country Boy and Rocky Mountain High, the less wise person I was
at the time thought that John Denver just wasn't "cool". I was wrong!
One afternoon as my best friend, brother and fellow artist, Dale Slack
and I were listening to tunes on his stereo, Dale put an album (the classic
vinyl type) by John Denver on his turntable. It was entitled, Poems,
Prayers & Promises. I wasn't exactly thrilled with Dale's musical
selection, but I decided to give it a try. I'm glad that I did. The music on
the album resonated within a part of me that progressive rock couldn't.
As time went by, I became more aware of just how talented John Denver
was. With a catalog of songs including classics such as Annie's Song,
Follow Me, Sunshine On My Shoulders, Calypso, Wild Montana Skies,
For You, Leaving On A Jet Plane and Perhaps Love, it was clear to me
that John was not only cool, but "far out" (a frequent John Denver
expression) as well! By the way, it should be noted that John Denver
once said that he thought Perhaps Love was the best song he had ever
written. The fact that the song is all about love says much about the man
and the artist.
I never abandoned progressive rock back then, but I frequently listened to John's music on my own stereo as well. I've also listened
to his songs on photography camping trips with Dale...especially Country Roads ("West Virginia, Mountain Mama") while in West
Virginia, and Rocky Mountain High in The Rocky Mountains of Colorado and Wyoming. All these many years later, I still enjoy
listening to John Denver's music. In fact, Karen and I recently watched John's superb 1995 The Wildlife Concert DVD again in
preparation for this SPOTLIGHT.
While I enjoyed every song he performed in that concert, two songs in particular sang out to my soul. One was Poems, Prayers &
Promises...the title song from the album which formally introduced me to John's music...courtesy of Dale. The other song was You
Say The Battle Is Over. As someone who cares deeply about animals (I've been an animal rights supporter and vegetarian for most
of my 63 years) and who is horrified by the atrocities humans have inflicted upon them, that song, to me, is like an anthem which
cries out for their plight.
Before John Denver became the entertainer we know to this day, he began his life as Henry John Deutschendorf Junior. Born
December 31, 1943 in Roswell, New Mexico, John began his musical career performing in folk music groups in the 1960s.
While doing research for this SPOTLIGHT, I found it interesting, though not surprising, to learn that John was turned down by many
recording companies when he decided to perform on his own. I said I wasn't surprised because of how frequent poor business
decisions like that occur in the art world.
It is my understanding that Margaret Mitchell's book, Gone With The Wind, was rejected by numerous publishers before becoming
the classic novel that it is today...and the song, Over The Rainbow was almost cut from The Wizard Of Oz. Just two examples of
how men in suits often show their ignorance of artists and true art.
Along with his artistry as a singer and songwriter, John worked as an actor in several television and theatrical movies including the
funny and touching film, Oh, God! with George Burns. Yet it was his musical career in which he most shined. John was a storyteller
who put his stories to song. He sang about seemingly simple and yet monumentally important things in life. He sang of love and his
love of nature. He sang about things that were dear to his heart. He gave voice to what he knew to be true. He was, in fact, an artist
in every sense of the word.
As someone who sincerely appreciates the incredible wonders of nature, I too have discovered that…"Sunshine on my shoulders
makes me happy." I've also…"Spent a night or two all on my own" while camping...and know that, "It's really fine to have a chance
to hang around, And lie there by the fire and watch the evening tire." In my opinion, no poetry ever written has more eloquently
expressed these simple truths.
One of John Denver's passions in life was flying. Sadly, the world lost John nearly twenty-five years ago when, on October 12, 1997,
the small plane he was piloting crashed into the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California. He was 53 years old. Two years later, my
best friend and brother, Dale Slack, passed on at the age of 38 leaving a void in my life that will never be filled. I miss him every day.
There is a line in John's song, Rocky Mountain High, which goes…"And he lost a friend but kept his memory." Sometimes memories
are all we have to hold on to in this life.