Remembering John Denver

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Sunday evening I was pulling my hair trying to think of a good topic for today’s post…the well of really juicy celebrity gossip is running a little dry right now (though I did read a report this morning that Nicole Richie is reportedly dating…big ewww factor coming, so brace yourself…Jeff Goldblum, who is just a mere 30 years her senior…um, gross).

But I just didn’t want another yuck factor post this morning. So, I thought I would list some of my favorite songs…what they mean to me…and why. As I scrolled through my iTunes library, dropping possible songs to feature in a specified folder…I noticed that I had chosen several from John Denver’s “Poems, Prayers, & Promises” album. This switched a light on for me.

More often than not…the late John Denver gets labeled as some dweeby tree hugger who is thankful to God that he’s a country boy and who celebrates Christmas with the Muppets.

But…setting aside the fact that “John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together” is an album I listen to ad nauseam every holiday season…Denver is so much more than schmaltz.

I have several John Denver CDs now (including “Back Home Again” and some crazy 4-disc anthology) but the Denver albums I listened to as a kid…actual LPs that I still own and cherish…are “John Denver’s Greatest Hits” and “Poems, Prayers, & Promises.” Not only did the sleeve art on the “Poems, Prayers, & Promises” album…a black and white image of Denver…captivate me…the sorrow in his voice grabbed me…even though I was a pre-teen.

“Junk” (written by The Beatles) is one of my all-time favorite Denver recordings. I’ve always been fascinated by the lyrics…Motorcars, handlebars, bicycles for two…broken-hearted jubilee…’Buy. Buy,’ says the sign in the shop window…’Why? Why?’ says the junk in the yard.”

And now for a true confession…

I have to interrupt this post to share an epiphany I just had. Before typing the lyrics above…I Googled them to make sure I had the sequence right. Well, the song, which meant so much sorrow to me, has been changed forever.

Until just this very second in my life…I always thought the lyrics were “Motorcars, handlebars, bicycles for two…broken-hearted jubilee…‘Bye-bye,’ says the sign in the shop window…’Why? Why?’ says the junk in the yard.”

Knowing the lyrics are “buy, buy” instead of “bye-bye” saddens me. I know the message is the same but the delivery is different…I don’t want to accept it…and I don’t think I will.

It will, to me, forever remain “bye-bye.”

Just thought I’d share.

Back to my impression of Denver’s recording of “Junk.” This was the first song in which I ever heard a singer use their voice…not actual words…to emote. After the chorus, Denver almost cracks his voice in a little yodel…”La da da da da da dadada da da da da daaaa”…that was then…and still today…so beautiful. I remember wanting so badly to be able to do that with my voice. I would practice and practice singing with the hissing recording issuing from my LP…until finally…I taught myself how. (Aside: A reader just contacted me and pointed out that Denver’s voice does not actually crack in this song…wondering if they had missed something. No…his voice does NOT crack…but when I was a kid…that’s how I heard it. It’s still beautiful…but not quite the “yodel” I remember. Sorry for misleading y’all.)

Denver’s “Junk” made me want to sing…beautifully. Click on any of the “Junk” links to download the song.

Another amazing song from the “Poems, Prayers, & Promises” album is “Gospel Changes” (written by J. Williams). This song moved me so deeply…even though I had to ask my mother to interpret the line, “Talkin’ ’bout reapin’ what you’re sowin’ and people tryin’ to be free.” And to this day, the line about Jesus makes me weep.

Gospel Changes

The prodigal son he’d been away awhile
He was makin’ his way back home now
After many a ragged mile
When he finally crossed the river
And his father saw him near
There was a joyful sound for all the world to hear

Chorus:
I listened to what the Good Book said
And it made good sense to me
Talkin’ ’bout reapin’ what you’re sowin’
And people tryin’ to be free
Now we got new names and faces
This time around
Gospel changes, Lord
Still goin’ down
Jesus–He did not doubt His gift
Though He knew that He had not long to live
He took care of the business,
Teaching us how to fly
Then He bowed His head
And laid down to die

(Chorus)

Jerusalem I see is standing high
But if you lose your salvation
There’ll be no tears left to cry
Now some men worship a golden calf
While others are bought and sold
And if we live like that,
Brother we pay the toll

(Chorus)

Download “Gospel Changes” here.

The last track on the album was a poem, “The Box” (written by Lascelles Abercrombie, 1881-1938). Denver’s recitation of this work was so heartfelt and earnest, while remaining innocent and humble. I probably listened to this track more than any other on the album…wanting to learn every word and nuance. And I did. I memorized the poem and can still recite it today. Although I prefer Denver’s version, I thought you might enjoy hearing me deliver this poem…so here is “The Box,” recited by Shelley Powers.

Finally, I can’t talk about my love for John Denver without mentioning “The Eagle and the Hawk” (written by John Denver and Mike Taylor), which is on “John Denver’s Greatest Hits” album.

Even beyond “Junk”, “The Eagle and the Hawk” is my all-time favorite Denver song. From the climactic build of the guitar at the beginning to the driving strings at the end…and the beauty of the words in the middle…this song is amazing. As a kid, I would turn the volume all the way up when this song played…until no more sound could fill my bedroom. Then I’d stand on my bed…close my eyes…hold my arms out from my sides….and sing…and fly…and sing.

It enveloped me. I’d holdfast on every note…all the way through to the last violin strains…never wanting the song to end. These were the days before CDs…before replaying a song was as easy as setting it to loop mode. This was a record…replaying it meant that I had to physically get down off the bed…walk to the record player…pick up the needle…and gently…tenderly…place it on the empty groove encircling my desired song. Then, in the seconds the white noise played before my song began, I would run…jump back up on the bed…close my eyes…extend my arms…and prepare to sing again.

So, here is “The Eagle and the Hawk”…yes, it’s an mp3, not an LP…but you can still jump up on your bed and “fly” while you listen.

Enjoy.

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16 Responses to “Remembering John Denver”

  1. PeggyisAmused Says:

    man ur ghey.

    hehe jk. i, too, was a jd fan, albeit a closet fan, b/c in 1979 it was SO not cool to be in jr. high and admit you liked jd (especially when others were listening to TRULY talented artists like the bay city rollers).

    i encourage you to check out a much less popular cd of his, farewell andromeda. i still love every single song on it *blushes* – it was, and still is, my all-time fave jd cd.

  2. TALK! Says:

    I will definitely to that! Thanks, peg.

    And btw, ur ghey 2!!!1111

  3. bamaborntxbred Says:

    I really never listened to JD much. (My parents thought popular music was from the debbil.)

    The only song I clearly remember is “Country Roads” and lemme tell you, that song is a major player in my childhood memories. I don’t know where we heard it, but my sisters and I memorized the damn thing and sang it non-stop. (That’s how come I know I’m supposed to marry Tay…he sang OUR song.)

    I played “The Eagle and the Hawk” here at work. Someone stuck their head in and said “John Denver! Gaw, I didn’t know you liked him!” So, I guess he was some kind of major singer dude. Cool.

    God bless him.

  4. TALK! Says:

    Okay…bama…I don’t know what I love more…the fact that your parents would have thought JD’s music was of the “debbil” or that your co-worker knew “The Eagle and The Hawk!”

    SA-WEET

    And, by the way…you’re gonna have to arm wrassle me for Taylor. πŸ˜‰ HA!

  5. TALK! Says:

    By the way bama…I hope you share this blog with your co-workers…the more the merrier.

    (I’m such an attention whore.)

  6. bamaborntxbred Says:

    I already emailed a link to ur blog to a bunch of non-Taylor friends. Hopefully they’re reading! I also encouraged Soul Karen from Ash’s (also ex-GC) to come visit…which she did.

    A lot of peeps are shy to post.

    BTW- my parents found my contraband Genesis cassette tape and I convinced them it was a Christian band. Am I going to hell for that?

  7. TALK! Says:

    ROFL…I can’t even address that comment about Genesis.

    That is hilarious.

    But they did sing “Jesus He Knows Me,” so maybe you can ask forgiveness.

    This gives me pause to rethink what the heck Phil meant with ABACAB.

  8. bamaborntxbred Says:

    Hey- it worked with U2 as well….Joshua Tree- I used In God’s Country as proof.

  9. Ash.http://tayloristheboogie.wordpress.com Says:

    Hey!

    There is nothing wrong with The Muppets. They don’t get enough respect for what they have done for music culture. Really.

  10. TALK! Says:

    Ash…I totally agree.

    Jim Henson was brilliant. The Muppets are not just entertaining…they actually have depth to their characters and personalities that captivate.

    As a matter of fact…I get so upset when I see how…since Henson is gone…people have capitalized on The Muppets commercially. It makes me sick.

  11. suzi-q Says:

    Yeah for Henson, a Mississippian:)and named Bert and Ernie from the wonderful classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” Muppets, one of the great contributions from a talented MS artist!!! Kind of like this Blog!!!

  12. TALK! Says:

    Aw…suzi-q…you are so sweet. And you’re pretty, too. πŸ˜‰

    love you.

  13. suzi-q Says:

    “Talk”, which John Denver did I love to hear you quote the poem about the box that held all kinds of bad things??? or something like that with locks on it????

  14. TALK! Says:

    Suzi-Q…that would be the poem entitled “The Box” πŸ˜‰

    I know your Internet runs a little slow…so don’t worry about downloading…I’ll recite it for you next time I’m down.

  15. manders Says:

    Shelley, priceless lyric epiphany you had! No, literally, it’s priceless, keep the lyrics your way!

    Much love!

  16. TALK! Says:

    Thanks, Manders.

    Alt tab, baby.

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