Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Random Release: Not about John Denver at all...

So when I showed Karla what the CD was for the next random release post she said, “Did you steal that from my mom?” Fair enough, and unfortunately I can’t even cop out and say that I did, but in fact bought this album legitimately, albeit for very cheap, at a Best Buy in Atlanta during a moment of weakness and a craving for nostalgia that could never exist simply because I have no solid association with the album or artist besides some very limited and random knowledge.

What in the world are you talking about??? Ok, I know, here it is…The Best of John Denver. And not even a legit, official version, but what appears to be some one off label just cashing in on the hits shortly after his death.

Technically I’ve got nothing against John Denver. I mean he’s “a song’s best friend,” right? But the fact is that I just really have zero connection to his music. And I’ve tried. Ten years ago when I bought this compilation I tried. I thought for sure that the two or three songs I was sorta familiar with would be enough to gap the spaces between the stuff I’d never heard, but I’m afraid it wasn’t. I mean I’m sure Rocky Mountain High is a fine song, in fact I know there are thousands, nay, millions of folks who think so, but I’m just not one of them. And I think it’s all about timing. I just came in a bit too late (a good 25 years at the time of purchase) to ever have a chance at making the correlation. But in the spirit of giving this collection a proper shout out, I tried yet again just last week, dutifully putting this 14 track disc in the player on my way to work out and I got to track four (Seasons of the Heart) before I decided that it just wasn’t going to happen. Ever. The time has gone, the gap is too great, I was then as now too old and jaded and set in my “punk rock” ways to ever “get” what is so “great” about John Denver. And really, this applies to all those folksy/homey/sensitive singer-songwriter types of the late 60s/early 70s, including artists like James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Cat Stevens and Carole King. And hey, don't take it personally. I mean you guys made millions pedaling your sissy cheese and it sure made a lot of people feel better about things that didn't matter, but in 1976 God gave me The Damned's New Rose so I could punch you in the face, knock you off your rainbows and roses pedestal and thus end your reign of sappy tyranny. Ok, I was only 3 in 1976, but somebody did it, so there!

Man, I just spewed all over a bunch of basically nice folks simply ‘cos I have no childhood association with their music. Well, not much anyway, and really, it’s not my fault. See, my parents are a good decade older than most of the parents of my age group. My dad liked big band, classical, opera and taking the piss out of everything I listened to. My mom likes Nat King Cole and old standards sung by anyone who isn’t Bryan Ferry. (Ok, I made up that last part, but really Bryan, when is that original line up Roxy Music album coming out?)

Bryan Ferry: Avant Garde rocker turned crooner

But seriously, listen, I think that’s a lot of what John Denver is about for kids our age…nostalgic associations, drifting back to an easier time before rotten jobs, mortgages and babies that won't keep their pacies in their mouth so daddy can finish posting on his stupid music blog. (This means you, Fox!) I mean literally all I remember about him from being a kid is his appearance on the Muppets and that was probably from reruns. I also knew he acted in TV movies. Oh, and I knew he wore fringe leather outfits. And I think Keith Keller's parents owned his albums on 8-track. I know at some point in the 80s his greatest hits were advertised on TBS…and honestly, that’s probably how I got any inkling of what his songs sounded like, those little 5 second clips and a warp-speed rolling of all the songs you’d be getting for just 3 easy installments of $19.95 (in Monopoly money, yo).

I think what made me think at the time of purchasing this CD that I could maybe latch on to something nice from my childhood (I mean I was around, just not exposed) was hearing this story from someone (I honestly can’t remember who, when or where I heard this) who like me had no real association with John Denver but for some reason his untimely death in 1997 sparked a little interest in seeing what he was all about, and an off chance 'best of' purchase (like mine) sparked an emotional flood of obsession that resulted in the acquisition of the entire back catalog and an affinity for the late artist like they could have never imagined possible. I mean that’s right up my alley like fruitcake. Er…anyway, bottom line, I was impressed by this person’s absolute and genuine passion for the music and thought maybe there was enough for me to tap in as well. Likely I was musically dry at the time and looking for a new inspiration (essentially a new Joy Division…hey, wait, John Denver…Joy Division…JD…get it???), so I made an impulse purchase and fell flat. Whoops. Hey, person of unknown name and gender, you owe me $3.99 plus Georgia tax.

Or maybe it was all a bad sushi dream.

New Order: Technique

Anyway, the other thing I know about John Denver, more recently, was that about 20 years ago he sued New Order ‘cos he claimed the song Run from their album Technique was a dead rip of his song Leaving on a Jet Plane -- an allegation that was settled out of court. And while I give the man, or at least someone in his camp, mad props for even being familiar with said band/album/song, I would like to punch his posthumous face for a move that to me seems as much a cash in as the 'best of' CD I purchased six months after his death…even though admittedly the similarities between the two songs are as obvious as that recent Coldplay song and the umpteen artists out there claiming they were ripped off as well.
But for all this (honestly good-natured) poo-pooing and underhanded talk about ol’ John, I will say that there’s at least one time when he got it right, and that’s Annie’s Song. I mean I don't know who Annie is, but he sure paid her one good compliment with this ditty. (Ok, curiosity made me wiki the song and it's as cheesy as you'd expect.) Seriously, Bill, seriously, in spite of it all, this is one of those songs with a melody that absolutely hits you square in the gut of your soul and could pull tears from a stone and if it doesn’t make you sniffle at least a little bit, you’re either Brian Batey or a neo-Nazi. And while I have, did and will again make fun of this song by changing the lines into little innuendos that I won’t repeat here just in case my mother should ever read this (ha, ha), I can’t help wishing a bit that I was on stage with a guitar, wearing a Red Indian jerkin and sporting some straw-straight hair, giving it my all.
Either Or

Other like songs are:

Katy Song by Red House Painters
Life In a Northern Town by the Dream Academy
Candle on the Water from Pete’s Dragon as sung by Helen Reddy
Nessun Dorma from Turandot by Giacomo Puccini as only properly sung by Luciano Pararotti

So, really, this post isn’t about John Denver at all. I thought it might be a bit about my childhood, but it’s not even that. What is it then? Yeah, I dunno. But check back soon for more of my drivel.

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