And They Say That He Got Crazy Once

Do you remember the first time you heard "Rocky Mountain High" on the radio? I do.

I was driving up to Elk Creek in northern California with Joel, who was about two, I believe. We had friends up there who lived on a 76-acre spread and who'd invited me up just to get away. They had man-made lakes, mountain streams, riding paths, cattle, horses, peacocks, and a big front porch that faced the eastern ridge of the Sierras, where I spent my evenings with my 12-string, writing songs...

When "Rocky Mountain High" came on during the drive, I felt completely in tune with what John Denver was singing about; the scenery outside the car windows seemed to illustrate the song's lyrics. Up until then I'd never even heard of John Denver. Of course, I knew of John Deutschendorf, who'd penned "Leaving On a Jet Plane" and "Follow Me", but I didn't know he'd picked up a nom de plume. I wanted the song to go on and on. It was one of those songs that, had it been on a cassette tape, I would have hit rewind many times.

I was a seasoned folkie, but this was a music I'd never heard before. Not quite folk, not quite country, not quite pop. The guitars rang like bells, Denver's tenor voice as clear as a crystal mountain river, and the tight vocal harmonies made my heart constrict and ache with pleasure. Sweet Jesus, you could hear the guitar picks hitting every note of every chord. It made me dizzy.

Forget 70s pop culture, forget John Denver exuberantly exclaiming "Far out!" through his broad, toothy grin. Forget how mainstream television glommed onto him and forget the Muppets. John Denver was a master songsmith and one of our great American troubadours who never really got the respect he deserved. Perhaps it was the shiny, bright-as-a-new-penny image, or maybe it was that during a time when our country was so wounded and cynical, his optimism and joy rubbed some people the wrong way. Forget, too, the pictures in this video. It's the best I could do. Close your eyes and think on the song, not the image or the marketing. Listen to it again as if for the first time.