INTERESTING STUFF – 31 August 2013
Holiday Art Tour – Year 4

ELDER MUSIC: John Denver

PeterTibbles75x75This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.

Here's a column for the boomers. Initially, JOHN DENVER was respected as a songwriter of considerable facility. However, as he became very popular indeed, he didn’t get much respect from the cooler-than-thou types. When he died, though, things changed a bit.

By then he was re-acknowledged as an excellent songwriter. He was also, somewhat grudgingly, given some kudos for his singing. Okay, clear-eyed (or should that be clear-eared?) people like me recognize that there were clunkers in his oeuvre, but lordy, there are some of those even in Bob Dylan’s output so we’re not holding those against him.

John Denver

John first impacted on my ears when Peter, Paul and Mary covered his song Leaving on a Jet Plane. I think that their version was superior to John’s, but he’s the man of the column so it’s his we have today.

♫ John Denver - Leaving on a Jet Plane

John Denver

John did have a thing for Colorado, after all he named himself after its major city. He also wrote songs about various places in the state. This might be the pick of them, Starwood in Aspen.

♫ Starwood in Aspen

John Denver

He recorded a whole bunch of albums but to my mind the best of them was “Farewell Andromeda.” From that one we have Berkeley Woman, a particular favorite of mine.

♫ John Denver - Berkeley Woman

John Denver

Here is another song that I believe Peter, Paul and Mary did better than John. Mary did a fine job on that one singing solo. However, as with the previous one by PP&M, John didn’t do a bad job of it either, although I don't know about that choir. The song is For Baby (For Bobbie).

♫ John Denver - For Baby (For Bobbie)

John Denver

No, this isn’t Rocky Mountain High, it’s Rocky Mountain Suite, subtitled Cold Nights in Canada, a completely different song, and to my mind, a better one.

♫ John Denver - Rocky Mountain Suite (Cold Nights In Canada)

John Denver

Now a song that John didn’t write. It was written by Steve Gillette and Tom Campbell. The first version I came across was by Ian and Sylvia, way back, who did a fine job of it. I think theirs was the first time the song was recorded.

There are many others these days including an interesting one by Nanci Griffith. Steve Gillette’s may beat them all though. John also does a really good job.

The song is Darcy Farrow and it starts out nice and happy, quite sunny really, but turns dark as we get into it. A sad tale if ever there was one.

♫ John Denver - Darcy Farrow

The song sounds so good and authentic that it must be a song based on fact. Well, sort of.

The myth, propagated by Ian Tyson whenever he and Sylvia sang it, is that it was written by Steve and Tom as an exercise in their college English class. Steve said that this was such a good tale that he left it out there, not correcting it until recently.

It seems that it's sort of based on fact. Steve's sister Darcy was once kicked by a horse and broke her cheekbone so that bit's sort of correct. They made up the rest, and it wasn't for an English class.

For a change of pace, here is STEVE GILLETTE's version of the song.

Steve Gillette

♫ Steve Gillette - Darcy Farrow

John Denver

A song from later in John's career, and one of his best, is Some Days are Diamonds (Some Days Are Stone). Norma, the Assistant Musicologist, insisted on this one being present.

♫ John Denver - Some Days Are Diamonds (Some Days Are Stone)

John Denver

As I mentioned earlier, it’s no surprise that several of the tracks today come from his album “Farewell Andromeda” as it was easily his finest recorded moment, although the critics seem to disagree with my judgment.  I often disagree with critics.

This album has some really interesting songs rather than just the greatest hits. Here is, sort of, the title track, Farewell Andromeda (Welcome to My Morning).

♫ John Denver - Farewell Andromeda (Welcome to My Morning)

John Denver

One more song. I won't say it was a toss-up as half a dozen were in contention. I played them all and they sounded too much like each other. Then I realized he performed on one of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's "Circle..." series.

That's the one, I thought. It's called And So It Goes.

♫ John Denver - And So It Goes


My home-town boyfriend (a tiny burg in rural Nebraska) was one of John Denver's roadies when we were living together in the '70's. He died earlier this summer - this brings back memories.

Alway a favorite of mine and one of the artist that I pretty much have everything he recorded. Denver was also a favorite of my wife's before we met as was Neil Diamond. This shared appreciation for Denver is partially responsible for us getting married and remain so 37 years later.

Kind of wished you'd shared Denver's version of John Prine's Spanish Pipedream but glad you did Darcy Farrow and Berkley Woman as part of this post.

These songs just reinforce my feelings about John Denver -- very uneven -- flashes of brilliances too often veering over into mushiness. And the lyrics for that Berkeley Woman song(which I never heard of) are amazingly misogynistic. (I looked it up to see that it was not written by John.)

He was my favorite artist of that era, because he sang about my favorite place, Colorado. (It seemed so far away then, but I was finally able to move to Denver a few years ago.) I bought every album he recorded. Incidentally, after years of debate about whether he was writing about a drug-induced high, his "Rocky Mountain High" was adopted as Colorado's second official state song.

Oh, the memories...

Many Colorado natives blame the insurgence of people from all over the nation to the Denver area on John Denver. They seem to feel that they had a nice "secret," wonderful state all to themselves before he started writing and singing about it!

Well, we moved there anyway and lived there for 17 years and would move back in a heartbeat if we could afford it. Colorado's cost of living is higher than ours here in Tennessee.

Actually I'm writing to say that I'm disappointed that you left out "Poems, Prayers and Promises" -- my favorite song. All I have to do is to hear the opening notes and my eyes well up with huge tears. It describes so well that time in my history...

If they invent a time machine while I'm still alive, that is one of the worst/best times of my life. To be young and to be able to start over again -- I'd definitely do a lot of things differently...

So you speak to me of sadness and the coming of the winter,
The fear that is within you now that seems to never end,
and the dreams that have escaped you and the hope that you've forgotten,
and you tell me that you need me now and you want to be my friend,
and you wonder where we're going, where's the rhyme and where's the reason?
And it's you cannot accept: it is here we must begin to seek the wisdom of the
and the graceful way of flowers in the wind.
For the children and the flowers are my sisters and my brothers,
their laughter and their loveliness would clear a cloudy day.
Like the music of the mountains and the colors of the rainbow,
they're a promise of the future and a blessing for today.

Though the cities start to crumble and the towers fall around us,
the sun is slowly fading and it's colder than the sea.
It is written: From the desert to the mountains they shall lead us,
by the hand and by the heart, they will comfort you and me.
In their innocence and trusting they will teach us to be free.
For the children and the flowers are my sisters and my brothers,
their laughter and their loveliness would clear a cloudy day.
And the song that I am singing is a prayer to non-believers,
come and stand beside us we can find a better way.
In true Hippy fashion I walked down the aisle at my wedding to John Denver's Rhymes and Reason. Love him (john) always...marriage went south.

My favorite song of his is not one you hear very often. It is "me and my uncle"

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