Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Legacy of John Denver

Many critics out there have referred to his music as cornball or too mellow, and some of you may feel the same—and that’s okay—but in my opinion he’s a prophet for his stance on environmental issues.

He was a man ahead of his time, who embraced environmental causes way before many of us even understood what environmentalism is.

John Denver introduced me to the environment through his music.

In particular, he exposed me to the stories of the beauty and majesty of the Colorado Rocky Mountains; a place which, shamefully, I still have yet to visit and explore. I'll get there someday physically, as I visit the place every time I put his music on.

My first exposure to Denver was probably around the age of six, when he was all over television in the mid-1970s. He was one of the first “tele-genic” pop stars, and very kid friendly, so my folks probably saw my interest and an opportunity to “culture” me, encouraging the matter by giving me John Denver’s Greatest Hits for Christmas 1975. I believe it was the first bona-fide record I ever owned—the one where he has his hand on his hat, with those nerdy specs and the sun in his eyes—how could I ever forget it...

...oh excuse me, my first record was one by Burl Ives, and it WASN'T the one with "Frosty the Snowman."


The most intriguing part of Denver’s music is the lyrics and themes, in that many of the songs deal with his very personal and spiritual kinship with the environment. Certainly they mean something different to a 6 year old kid than they do to an adult, but the imagery in his music definitely took hold back in the day. I saw visions of majestic mountains, grassy meadows, and mountain streams. I also took note of the concerns expressed in many of his songs; in that the environment is a living, fragile entity.

Looking back, I think I "got it" even at the age of 6... I guess I figured it's a no-brainer. Protect the planet to ensure it's longevity.


What’s so funny about all this is the fact that my mother, who once stated that “she has no connection with nature,” and is the only person I know who refuses to recycle—essentially representing the opposite of everything I value in this world—is the exact individual who pushed the music of John Denver on me as a child. That’s what planted a seed for a big part of the belief system, and the stewardship for the environment, that I carry around to this day.

Damn it, I digressed again... somebody stop me.

Shifting gears, this month marks the 10-year anniversary of his untimely death in 1997, when he died piloting an experimental Long-EZ aircraft which crashed just after takeoff from the Monterey Peninsula Airport in Pacific Grove, CA. He was 53 at the time.

After establishing his musical career in the mid 1970s, Denver used his celebrity to further the environmental sentiments expressed in his music. In addition to focusing on humanitarian and sustainability work, his main focus involved conservation issues—and he went after them aggressively—actually helping to create the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (I assume we all know the context of that locale).

Denver founded his own environmental group, the Winstar Foundation out of Snowmass, CO—which pursues conservancy and environmental causes in Colorado to this day, and furthers environmental education. You can visit their website here: John Denver's Windstar Foundation. Check out the site and offer some support!

If you ever want to know any detail of what was on Denver’s mind with the environment, just visit his music. I’ll warn you that much of it’s folk-based, and some of it might make you snicker a bit at first at what might come across as a cornball element—but if you give it a chance I think some of it should take hold. Try going to your local library and check out his Country Roads Collection, or try out the one above I mentioned having above as a kid (nerdy-looking squinting fella in the funny hat).

So the story goes… thank you, John Denver, for the inspiration and example you set. S

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