Wednesday, March 26, 2008

It's Not a Springsteen Story, But It'll Have to Do

I have three John Denver stories to tell, but first this...

Okay, here we go:

1. Back in the 70s, when gas was scarce and lines at the stations were long, a story came out in the Denver media that John Denver, who owned a house in Aspen I believe, had purchased, buried, and filled a notably large gas tank on his mountain property. Odd? Yes. Particularly the suggestion that John Denver, the environmentalist, might be harboring some survivalist tendencies... tendencies I've been edging more and more towards in the past 20 years. That John Denver had done this was treated in the media as a cause for scorn and ridicule, though I personally found it merely curious and odd.

2. When in high school, I liked John Denver. Okay, I know I just blew all credibility with you there, but I have to admit it for the sake of this story. A squirrelly girl in poetry class had a huge crush on me while I had a huge crush on the future Mrs. Howard. [Guess who won the Howard lottery?] One day we had an assignment to bring some music to class that we considered poetry, and the squirrelly girl brought John Denver because she knew I liked him. When I reacted with disdain at her choice, she got
very upset and accused me of being disagreeable just to push her away. I denied it, but realized she had my number all right -- that's exactly what I was doing. John Denver helped me realize something about human behavior that day. [My choice of music? Jackson Browne's Saturate Before Using album.]

3. In 1996-97, I worked with an architect friend for a developer in the Littleton Tech Center in a very large airplane hanger at Centennial Airport. Stored within this airport hanger, besides our offices, were two kit-built airplanes owned by... yup, John Denver.

He didn't live in Colorado anymore however. He now lived in California. But I was told he came out to Colorado occasionally to fly his way cool airplanes. They were both very tiny and one of them had an unusual wing arrangement -- a canard wing just in front of the cockpit. Matter of fact, here is a photo of the plane, designed by Burt Rutan and built from Rutan's plans, though with one crucial modification.

I worked with my friend in that hanger for a year, and always hoped that someday I would meet John Denver, out in Colorado to fly his cool planes. But no.

Then one Monday morning, the plane with the canard wing wasn't there anymore. An employee of John Denver's, I was told, had taken the plane that weekend and flown it to California.

Less than two weeks later, October 12, 1997, John Denver died while flying that airplane. It was thought that he lost control of the plane when he ran out of fuel and reached around behind the seat to flip a fuel tank lever, and pushed the right rudder pedal too much, putting the plane into a fatal dive. The fuel tank had been relocated from Rutan's original design, necessitating the awkward maneuver to operate the lever.

His death hit me hard -- and still does -- because he was such a contagiously happy person and... yes, a good songwriter and singer.

Why the stories? Because I came across the YouTube video of John Denver singing Rocky Mountain High, his greatest and sappiest hit -- though not my favorite -- and decided to come clean about my love of his music as a teenager.

So there you go -- my trio of John Denver stories. Now let me have it.

Note: This post was edited to remove an extraneous -- and perhaps dubious -- assertion: That John Denver was thought to be a Republican in the early 70's, at the time of the oil embargo.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry to dissapoint you but +1 from celeritas. I met him at his book signing at a Borders in Rancho Bernardo and at the end of the following October hiked the Rockies alone for six days and hunkered down in an unexpected storm. When I got back to Boulder all grizzled I found myself at one of those oyster bars with karaoke. Thankfully that's not on U-tube. I've learned a lot since then, about not singing. I often have one of his early records on the turntable and Bauhaus doesn't have anything on that.

1:26 AM, March 27, 2008  

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