Sunday, October 1, 2017

JOHN DENVER: A Personal "Rocky Mountain" Tribute

A Personal "Rocky
Mountain" Tribute

One my life's biggest
bummers is that I never
had an opportunity to
hug John Denver and
say, "Thanks, dude."

Monday, October 13, 1997 — 20 years this month — gone in a flash. But I still can recall with vivid clarity the day the music really died. Like most folks, I was moved personally by the tragic deaths of Keith MoonJohn Bonham and John Lennon. The more recent losses of such music icons as Frank ZappaFreddie Mercury and Eric Carr also had rocked my world. However, it was the shocking news reports of John Denver's untimely death in a plane crash on the previous day that literally knocked the breath from my lungs and brought me to my knees.

Honest and pure, John Denver's work was one of my earliest and most profound musical influences — gloriously appealing vocals pinned to (seemingly) simple acoustic guitar parts, woven into delightfully irresistible melodies and poured over compelling personal stories of life, love and nature. "FAR OUT," to be sure! Yet, despite his super-sized, superstar heyday status, Denver's brilliant artistry tended to get glossed over by his "goody-two-shoes" persona — the boy-next-door bowl cut, the studious-looking wire-rimmed specs and his authentic made-for-primetime charisma.

My personal passport to peace.
A well-documented "troubled soul" in his personal life, Denver's music (ironically) was happy and uplifting. In fact, nearly every warm-feeling, sweet-smelling childhood memory I have of growing up in Springfield, Missouri and Orlando, Florida during the mid '70's is attached somehow to John Denver's music. No other artist has created music capable of transporting me to such beautiful places — even beautifully painful places.

When Denver introduced fans to his uncle in the lyrics of the 1974 album track, "Matthew," you couldn't help but be moved by the poignant family story of love and loss. His slew of signature love songs, including "Annie's Song," "My Sweet Lady" and "Leaving on a Jet Plane" remain truly timeless classics, while such staples as "Rocky Mountain High," "Take Me Home, Country Roads," "Sunshine on My Shoulders" and my personal favorite, "Poems, Prayers and Promises," feel as fresh today as when they first were recorded.

Still fresh. Still sweet.
Denver's TV specials were ratings winners. His 1977 feature film, Oh, God! — a bona fide blockbuster. Along with Francis Scott Key, he also has the distinction of being one of only two songwriters to have penned two different state songs — impressive, indeed! And in his 1985 testimony before the U.S. Senate, Denver "jammed it" right down Tipper Gore's throat during the PMRC hearings — truly epic performance!

John Denver was a humanitarian with whom I agreed some of the time. And he was a political activist with whom I agreed (almost) none of the time. But at the end of the day, WHO CARES? It's supposed to be "all about the music," right?

Truth be told, as a Christian, even I can get (extremely) "overwhelmed" once in a while. And at those particularly dark times — those moments when the voices are getting to me most, I often still seek solace in the songs of John Denver — even after 45 years. "Thanks, dude." (

-Christopher Long
(October 2017)

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