Monday, October 12, 2015

The Day John Denver Died

Annie and John Denver
John Denver: Country Boy,” a documentary produced by BBC in 2013 to commemorate Denver's 70th birthday, aired on PBS earlier this year and is the being promoted on Netflix in time for the anniversary of the singer's death today. Claiming to tell the full story, the film nonetheless skips over Denver's admission of pot smoking and his use of psychedelics.

The film points out that Denver, who projected a wholesome innocence, was known for his catchphrase “Far Out.” Early footage of him singing an anti-Ku Klux Klan song with the Chad Mitchell Trio reveals his politicization, and he’s also shown with Peter, Paul and Mary singing his song, “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” a tune that became an anthem for US boys flying off to Vietnam. The clip below tells the story of his first hit, "Country Roads." 

Film of Denver on Jacques Cousteau’s boat demonstrates his support of Cousteau, through proceeds of his song “Calipso.” Denver was appointed by Jimmy Carter to work on hunger in Africa, akin to the moment God chose him to spread his word in the movie “Oh, God!” 

The filmmaker interviewed Denver’s first wife Annie, she of the wedding favorite “Annie’s Song.” In the film, both she and John talk about how the song was written, when John took to the ski slopes near their Aspen home after the couple had a fight. John’s description made me wonder whether he’d had a puff to enhance his physical activity on that day, since he says, "Suddenly I was hypersensitive to how beautiful every thing was." His thoughts lead to the first line, “You fill up my senses.”  

John’s writing of the song “Rocky Mountain High,” now an official Colorado state song, is also covered. But the origin of the lyric, “And they say that he got crazy once and he tried to touch the sun,” about an LSD trip he took, is omitted. Denver wrote in his autobiography Take Me Home that the song wasn’t just about tripping, saying, “It was also about exhilaration, freedom and morality.”

The only nod to Denver’s marijuana smoking comes at the end, when his lyric “while all my friends and my old lady sit and pass a pipe around” from the song from “Poems, Prayers, and Promises” is heard.

Later Denver, a victim of his own ambition/need for acceptance whose music was excoriated by rock critics, succumbed to drinking and had several drunk driving arrests. He was only 53 when his plane plunged into the Pacific Ocean near Monterey, CA on October 12, 1977.

"Sure he was a hippie, but he was one the whole family could enjoy," read his obituary in the Guardian.

Read more about John Denver.

 See a clip of the film:



Taffy Nivert, co-author of "Country Road," is shown here with Denver singing VIP Merle Haggard's  "Okie from Muskogee" including a verse that hammers home the point that it's a parody song.

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