I admit it, I'll always have a crush on Henry John Deutschendorf. You may know him as John Denver.
I know his songs are considered lightweight and sappy now, but I think he was sincere down to his core, and I love him for it. He loved the outdoors and especially his beloved Colorado mountains, and wasn't afraid to shout it. He wasn't opposed to sitting around and getting high, but other than that, he sure didn't seem like a lawbreaker or someone who would ever hurt a fly. He was a regular Muppet Show host and starred in their movies. And he didn't just sing about protecting and enjoying the earth, he got out there and worked in conservation projects.
I remember being thunderstruck when I heard he and his wife Annie (a Minnesotan like me) got divorced, because if the couple in "Annie's Song" couldn't make it, who could?
When we had to nominate a song for our eighth-grade graduation theme, I nominated his "Poems and Prayers and Promises," but it lost out to a song called "Somewhere Over the Horizon." I still think mine was the better choice.
And I used to listen to some of his albums full-on through, none of this "just the hits" business. I love "Merry Christmas, Little Zachary" about his son, "Starwood in Aspen," "My Sweet Lady," "The Eagle and the Hawk," and the best title ever, "60 Second Song For a Bank With the Phrase 'May We Help You Today?'" He even wrote songs people don't always associate with him, like "Leaving on a Jet Plane" and "Perhaps Love," a Glee Club standard. (Today, some of his lyrics were made into beautifully illustrated children's books -- Kelly has "Sunshine on My Shoulders" and we read it often. They didn't even censor the "makes me high" part.)
His daughter from his second marriage was just 8 in 1997 when Denver crashed his experimental plane, supposedly while switching gas tanks. He was so badly crushed they could not use dental record to identify him and had to use fingerprints. It was a sad, sad end who loved the air and the earth so much, taken down by both of them. But in a way, dying fairly young and while doing what he loved, out in the open air -- well, it might have been, for him, better than a lingering death from disease in a hospital bed.
For some, he's just the familiar voice you switch off on WLTE or hear while in the elevator or dentist's chair. I'll always think more of him than that. Thanks, John, for the music and for your spirit.
Were you a John Denver fan?