Ten years ago this week, John Denver died in a plane crash. Coincidentally, I've been thinking about him and his music recently. It was an internet thing. I was thinking about Steve Martin and that reminded me of David Steinberg. When I googled David Steinberg, believe it or not, I ended up on YouTube watching Three Dog Night. And Three Dog Night led, somehow, to John Denver. Then I realized that the anniversary of his death was coming up so I thought it might be nice to spend some time watching and listening to him. So I did.
When I was in high school, I was one miserable, depressed little honor student. I had never heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder, but I did suffer from it, among other things. Mostly I just hated my school, was terminally alienated and perpetually bummed out.
When "Sunshine on My Shoulders" hit the top-40, it grabbed my attention in a big way. That song was an anthem for me, like a hymn to the happiness that was there, just out of reach. I started buying all Denver's albums and listening to them compulsively. It was an era when I was going to Colorado every summer with my family, and towards the end of high school I took up backpacking and did some high country hikes. It seemed to me that Denver's songs really captured the feeling of the Rocky Mountains, the way that "City of New Orleans" sounds like a train, or Jackson Browne's road songs sound like a bus.
I am aware, of course, that John Denver is not considered "cool." As Rolling Stone magazine put it, the critics were never won over. Still I do like his music, and I can't find it in myself to complain that there is no irony in the lyrics, no dark side.
Denver had a nice voice, in addition to being a decent songwriter. He appeared with Frank Sinatra in Las Vegas for a season. Tonight when I was listening to some song samples, I remembered a song Denver did not write but it was on his live album "An Evening With...": "Today" by Randy Sparks. That is a classic song that John's voice is very well suited for.
Here's a YouTube video of "Today" and "The Eagle and the Hawk" from a 1973 concert at the Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado. The video quality isn't great but the setting is just perfect.
I picked this photo to illustrate because it shows John in a bookstore. That's not me with him, it's some other fan. I did meet him once, but that's another story.