So last night a dear friend invited me to see a John Denver tribute with the Nashville Symphony. Now, I am not necessarily a big JD fan. I was really, really little when he was in his heyday (I know that does not make me exactly young, but it does make me feel better to make that point). I have faint memories of seeing him –his straight flaxen bangs framing those enormous granny glasses –earnestly singing his songs on variety shows in the 70s.
But last night, I was surprised by how many of the songs I knew by heart: “Annie’s Song,” “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” “Take Me Home Country Roads,” and on and on. They were part of my memory; part of my childhood. Though I could have sung just about every word with the wonderful Mike Eldred, I instead listened. And for the first time I realized that John Denver was a remarkable writer. Sure, on the surface his songs were mostly catchy, simple, optimistic little ditties that often slid off the cliff to pure cheese. But by golly, there is some really great stuff there.
One song in particular, “Sunshine on My Shoulders,” caught me. I’ve heard it maybe a thousand times, but last night I found real meaning in the first lines: “Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy; Sunshine in my eyes can make me cry.” The same thing that gives us great happiness can be the very thing that causes pain. It’s all about orientation and perception.
I will be humming the tunes for days to come (much to my family’s annoyance) and thinking more about John Denver, the writer. Afterall, whether it is a novel, a screenplay, a TV script or song it’s all about the writing.