Saturday, March 14, 2015

Song of Life

John Denver

I have been thinking a lot about John Denver today.  The local PBS station was showing an old documentary about him a couple of days ago.  He was a very important part of my childhood.  He was the first artist whose music transcended my parent's music and my music to become OUR music.  I have very few childhood memories that don't contain his music playing in the background.

When I was very young I am told I was very fond of sitting in the backseat of the family sedan and singing, "Take me home, country roooooooad" at the top of my lungs with my head thrown back.  Every other summer we drove down roads embraced on both sides by cornfields and the melody I hear is all John Denver.  Years later when I heard the lyrics to "Matthew" I was certain he knew my family and our trips.

Yes, and joy was just a thing that he was raised on,
love was just a way to live and die.
Gold was just a windy Kansas wheat field,

blue was just the Kansas summer sky.

Fast forward to my early adolescence.  I was beginning to understand just how troubled of an individual my charismatic, bewildering brother was.  His behavior was spiraling out of control and the alcoholism that has plagued him his whole life was rocking my home and my parent's marriage.  The only peace my brother seemed to find was in escaping city life and hiking off the grid on the Grand Mesa, a Colorado gem only one hour from our home.  And as much as I was convinced I hated him, whenever "Rocky Mountain High" played, for nearly five minutes I could empathize with my brother and even feel I understood one facet of who he is.

And my most poignant memory of John Denver's music still makes my cry.  My parents marriage has spanned more than a half century.  For large chunks of time my father's job took him on the road while my mother kept the home fires burning.  He hated being away from his wife and children.  I recall him being nearly impossible to get along with in the twenty-four hours preceding his departure.  Once I happened to ask my mother why his visits home began so joyously but ended in monosyllables and tension.  She didn't answer, just adjusted the eight track tape player to "Goodbye Again."

If your hours are empty now, who am I to blame?
Do you think if I were always here, our love would be the same?
As it is, the time we have is worth the time alone.
And lying by your side's the greatest peace I've ever known, and it's goodbye again,
Goodbye again, as if you didn't know, it's goodbye again,

and I wish you could tell me, why do we always fight when I have to go?

Everyone has songs that played a big part of their childhood, how they felt about their lives, how the world operated and how to operate in it.  I am fortunate John Denver was around to write and sing songs that brought me joy and understanding, as well as synchronicity with in my family.  Bless you, John!

***I hope I have not violated any rules by quoting these songs in a blog.  In no way do I intend other than to share his genius and to bring attention to his skill.


  1. I really enjoyed reading your post. It felt so honest to me. As for music, well, I fell being able to create and appreciate music is a large part of what makes us human.

  2. It is amazing how songwriters can say so much to help is make sense of the world. I especially like the progression of your slice. First you are just singing along at the top of your lungs just enjoying the sound. Then you end with so much meaning understood through the words.