Mark vs Cancer

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Ode to Johnny D

Here's a shout out into the Great Beyond, to Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr., better known to all of us as the late and great John Denver.

This salutation comes from me hearing a lot of John Denver recently, as his Muppets' Christmas album figures prominently on my iPod Christmas playlist. Sweet, silly, even saccharine, it speaks to Mr. Denver's post-60's sentimentality and his kid-friendly, parent-approved, save-the-whales public persona.

Perhaps because I often can be overly sentimental myself, John Denver's entire musical portfolio and the earnest innocence of his worldview engender in me a deep sense of appreciation for the man and his music.

When he died in a plane crash on Oct 12, 1997, I shed unexpected (and rare) tears for a man I had never met, but whom I felt I had grown to love through his music. I remember feeling awed that a man with a guitar, three chords and a smile could reach down through the years, through my stereo and, singing only simple melodies and simplistic messages, coax my embittered heart into hoping for a better future.

For the children and the flowers are my sisters and my brothers,
Their laughter and their loveliness could clear a cloudy day
And the song that I am singing is a prayer to non-believers
Come and stand beside us, we can find a better way

What exactly, Mr. Denver, is this better way? Who knows? But every time I hear Rhyme and Reasons I feel it deep in my heart that our troubled world can be led out of the desert of post-modern despair by John Denver, a troupe of flower children, and Kermit the Frog.

You can't hardly hear a vintage John Denver song and not smile, not appreciate a little bit more the beauty of the earth or the wonder of childhood or the exhilaration of love. Sometimes I'll be weighed down by the cares of the world and a good John Denver tune will come on, and suddenly I've got sunshine on my shoulders. (Doesn't make me cry, however.)

To make music that stands the test of time, that transcends generations and modern cynicism, that gets the world to stand and sing in hopeful harmony--what a legacy for a man born as Henry Deutschendorf.


Dad said...

I also share a love for the music of John Denver. There haven't been many artists to span the breathe of different interests than John Denver. His music tends to appeal to a broad range of tastes in music. Can't explain why it appeals to me as much as it does, but I do. Who can drive into the mountains without putting on "Rocky Mountain High" and I dare anyone to not wail as loud as you can when you are listening to "Wild Montana Skies"? It is just good music. I remember well his shows on the Muppets and they were funny. Do you remember when they did "Grandma's Feather Bed" with all the Muppets...hilarious.

Yep, Mr Denver is a keeper as far as his music is concerned. I too felt extremely touched when he died at such a young age in such a bizarre accident.

I have often thought how much great music was not written since his death. Likewise for the songs that were never written from the likes of Jim Croce, Buddy Holly, Otis Redding, Elvis, John Lennon and others who left us too early.


Matthew said...

I have to admit that I also have a soft spot for John Denver. It's not that I think his music was so transcendentally inspired -- in fact, most of it is treacly, over-produced and cloyingly sentimental.
But I actually think that these qualities, combined with a hefty dose of nostalgia for my childhood, are actually why I do have a soft spot for some of his music.

I can remember many, many cross country trips in the Blue Buzzard with his multi-platinum live album An Evening With John Denver on the 8 track.

And it's hard for me not to be moved by a tender love ballad like "Annie's Song" -- about his wife, whom he later divorced! Some might say that makes the song a little less believable, but it makes it more moving to me, as a reminder of the ephemerality of all things. SIGH

His classic period I think was the 1970s -- he kind of got off track after that and began recording stuff that was irredemably sacchrine and weak, even by his standards. But his better songs bring to my mind images of a crackling fire in a cabin in the Colorado mountains, the snow falling gently outside and snuggling with the wife.

That can't be bad. Of course, that sort of sentiment is also rather cheesy!