I keep adding to my list of men who are often scorned or lampooned but that I wholeheartedly admire. I could make this entry about the late Mister Rogers. I will save my tribute to him for another day. Today I will save my praise of dead people for the late singer and songwriter John Denver.
Yep, I shamelessly admire the Rocky Mountain High man himself. I know his voice is an octave or two too high for many people. I know many people thought much of his music was sophomoric and trite. To many he seemed goofy.
They miss the point of John Denver. John Denver was the 20th century’s most authentic human being. He had his travails in life (such as his painful divorce from his wife Annie) like we all do. Nevertheless, John seemed hardwired into the joy and ecstasy of life.
John taught us a wonderful lesson: life is truly beautiful. Suck the marrow out it. Revel in its robustness. Marvel at its complexity and weirdness. Let life fill you to the brim. Let its overflow cascade onto the people around you. John was pro-life in the best sense of the word. His message was to be reckless with embracing your life. Take all of life in. Just like waves crashing on a beach endlessly sift through the sand, let its fullness and reality surge endlessly through you. In John Denver’s world, life was the ultimate adventure movie. Indeed life, even the ordinary life was far more fulfilling than any movie could possibly be. In the world according to John, all you have to do is fully embrace it to experience your authenticity.
As an artist, John brought the joy that he felt in living gloriously alive in his music. To me his spirit was infectious. He asked you to hang up that ragged coat of your own perceptions. He wanted you to open the shutters to your life, face the sun, feel the wind on your face, hear the cacophony of nature around you and revel in it al. You are to accept life as a glorious mystery. Your mission when listening to his music is to let down your shields and let his music infect you. Then perhaps you will experience it too. If you do then you may find yourself transformed, at least for a few moments. You may feel again the same exhilaration we all felt as infants when life was forever and the possibilities were infinite.
John’s interests were not limited just to music. He was passionate about many things including the manned space program, equal rights, ending racism and world hunger, photography and philanthropy. As you probably know, John died in 1997 at age 54. An experimental plane he was flying alone failed. It reportedly dropped like a stone into Monterey Bay. I am sure John was one of the last people who would want to check out of life prematurely. However, perhaps he had drawn too deeply from the well of life. Perhaps the gods were upset that one human being could draw so much meaning from one life in so short a time.
For me the antidote to a down day is to listen to a John Denver album. Invariably I can snap out of it. At least for a little while I am full of the promise and mystery of life once again.
John’s philosophy of life is succinctly summed up from a couple lines from Sweet Surrender:
Sweet, sweet surrender, live, live without care
Like a fish in the water, like a bird in the air.
Godspeed, John. And thanks.