Remembering John Denver

This Sunday, October 12, 2008, is the 11th anniversary of the death of John Denver. He is among the greatest singer/songwriters who ever lived and I still miss him terribly. I have been a John Denver fan for almost 35 years. It seems like yesterday that I was a young man driving along a country road, in the autumn of 1974, watching the leaves turn and listening to “Back Home Again” on the radio. Although I never met him, I had the good fortune to see him in concert at least three times at the Spectrum in Philadelphia and once at the Garden State Arts Center in Holmdel, NJ. I also saw him perform solo at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. He always gave a marvelous performance and I always felt inspired about myself and the world after one of his concerts. He was, and is, an inspiration to millions of people all over this planet that he respectfully called “Spaceship Earth.

John became famous and had a lot of popular hit songs on the radio in the 1970’s. I think he did some of his best work though in the 80’s and 90’s. Usually, if you hear one of his songs on the radio today it’s a song from the 70’s, “Take Me Home, Country Roads”, Rocky Mountain High, Annie’s Song, Thank God I’m a Country Boy, Perhaps Love, Sunshine on My Shoulders or maybe “Calypso.” Somewhere in the 80’s or 90’s radio stations stopped playing his new songs. I’m familiar with his later work, because I bought the record or CD, but many people aren’t. They are missing some of his best material. I will mention a few that I love:  It’s About Time, If Ever, Whispering Jesse, A Country Girl in Paris, Alaska and Me, A Baby Just Like You, Amazon, Seasons of The Heart, I Want to Live, To The Wild Country, The Wings That Fly Us Home, For You, What One Man Can Do… I can go on and on. has a list of all of his albums and the songs on them. “The Wildlife Concert”, filmed and recorded in 1995, is available as a video and a 2 CD set.  I highly recommend it. It is John at his absolute best.

“Flying for Me” is a wonderful song about the space shuttle Challenger. John volunteered to fly on the shuttle, but was turned down by NASA. He could very well have been on the Challenger when it exploded on January 28, 1986, if his wishes had been granted. “What One Man Can Do” is about Buckminster Fuller, an author and inventor who John knew and admired.

In 1976, John Denver and Tom Crum founded Windstar. Located in Snowmass Colorado, it is a not-for-profit foundation and a lasting legacy of John’s work. John said about Windstar, “Nothing would please me more than to know that there is an ever-expanding group of individuals who are working together each in their own way to improve the quality of life for all the life here on Spaceship Earth. That is what the music is about, that is what my life is about and that is what the Windstar Foundation is about.” Visit their website for more information about the work they are doing.

John also founded Plant-it 2020 in 1992. Plant-it 2020 is dedicated to “properly planting, maintaining and protecting as many indigenous trees as possible worldwide.”

Bill Danoff, who along with Taffy Danoff, co-wrote “Take Me Home, Country Roads” with John, has an interesting website with stories about John at the Cellar Door in Washington, D.C. in the 1960’s. One story on the website explains, among other things, what inspired the song and how it came to be written. You will probably be surprised. I was. I saw Bill and Taffy perform many years ago in a small theater at Mercer County Community College in West Windsor, NJ. They put on a great show, but it was lightly attended. I thought it was awfully nice of them when they invited the audience to stay for the second show for free.

The Rocky Mountain High Fan Club is run by Emily Parris. It has a wealth of information about John and links to all kinds of John Denver related websites, including The Wildlife Conservation Society.

John’s autobiography, “Take Me Home” was published in 1994. At the end of the last chapter in the book he writes, “I find myself thinking so often of the words to “On The Wings of a Dream,” which I wrote shortly after my father died.” “On The Wings of a Dream” is from the album “It’s About Time” released in 1983. I have always loved this song and shared it with friends. The lyrics of the song follow.

Yesterday I had a dream about dying
About laying to rest and then flying
How the moment at hand
Is the only thing we really own
And I lay in my bed and I wonder
After all has been said and is done for
Why is it thus we are here
And so soon we are gone

Is this life just a path
To the place that we all have come from
Does the heart know the way
And if not can it ever be found
In a smile or a tear
Or a prayer or a sigh or a song

And if so then I sing for my father
And in truth you must know I would rather
He were here by my side
We could fly on the wings of a dream
To a place where the spirit could find us
And joy and surrender would bind us
We are one anyway
Anyway we are more than we seem

There are those who will lead us
Protect us each step of the way
From beginning to end
For each moment forever each day
Such a gift has been given
It can never be taken away

Though the body in passing must leave us
There is one who remains to receive us
There are those in this life
Who are friends from our heavenly home
So I listen to the voices inside me
For I know they are there just to guide me
And my faith will proclaim it is so
We are never alone

From the life to the light
From the dark of the night to the dawn
He is so in my heart
He is here he could never be gone
Though the singer is silent
There still is the truth of the song

Yesterday I had a dream about dying
About laying to rest and then flying
How the moment at hand
Is the only thing we really own

And I lay in my bed and I wonder
After all has been said and is done for
Why is it thus we are here
And so soon we are gone

John Denver left the world a better place. He entertained us, taught us and inspired us with his songs. He challenged us to take better care of the earth and each other.

He will always live in my heart. He is here. He will never be gone.

5 Responses to “Remembering John Denver”

  1. Kathleen says:

    John Denver was a special spirit. Not only was he an ultimate performer, he was a humanitarian and a leader of the environmental movement. I would love the world to rediscover John’s music. It would be wonderful for a new generation to be inspired by this great man.

  2. WhyBother says:

    This is possibly the best tribute to Mr. Denver that I have ever read (and no, I’m not sucking up to you).

    I am a serious fan of John Denver. I have been since I was a little tyke. He was one of my mother’s favorite singers/songwriters. And he was unquestionably my Godmother’s favorite entertainer, bar none. I grew up listening to his music while most kids my age were listening to disco (way to go ME!). I’m forever reminded of both of them whenever I hear JD’s music.

    Really nice post John.

  3. Carole says:

    I just recently re-discovered John Denver – I downloaded “Thank God I’m A Country Boy” off iTunes and listened to it probably 10 times the one day while I was mowing the lawn this summer (yes, I sang along). It inspired me to find out more about him – I knew his songs from when I was a kid in the 70s – but I knew very little about the man. He was a very interesting and loving person and I enjoyed reading what you had to say about him. I’ve never listened to his later albums, but I’ll have to check them out. It’s truly a shame he didn’t live longer… Great post.

  4. Larry says:

    Found your site and words about John in trying to discover who “On The Wings of a Dream” was written for. I too feel him in my heart when he sings and am deeply touched by his words. It is my dream that “Spaceship Earth” will awaken to his beautiful, heart-felt words and his extraordinary relationship with nature. If there is a modern champion of life, it is him.
    Thank you for being conscious.

  5. John Tedder says:

    Thanks for your comments Larry. John Denver was a great man. His birthday was December 31st. I still listen to him all the time. I mention him and the song “A Baby Just Like You” in my post “Christmas Memories.” Thanks again.

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