Monday, August 27, 2012

"Take my hand and say you'll follow me..."

I was going through some old songs on YouTube and found myself listening to music from my first favorite recording artist.  I'll give you a few hints; I live in Colorado (easy), up against the Rocky Mountains (geesh), and finally one could say my house is down a few country roads.  (GOOD GRIEF!  This is such a hokey paragraph.  I allow myself one a year and this is IT.)  Yes, John Denver is correct.

Why Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr. (John Denver)?  Cute.  It wasn't his music, not at first anyway.  In 1977 I was ten years old and taken to see the movie, "Oh, God".  Mr. Denver played the role of the assistant grocery manager and George Burns appeared to him as God in the visage of a good natured old man. The Almighty selected him as his messenger for the modern world. 

John Denver's character was a sweet, unassuming guy.  He wasn't the classic leading man; strong, athletic, or brave.  No, instead he was a gentle and loving soul.  He was an underdog in a world full of bullies and non-believers.  Somehow, even at ten years old, I knew this was the type man I wanted to love when I grew up.  And yes, ironically throughout my life, these are the men I've fallen head over heels for.  This character was no different.  John Denver was my first movie star crush.  (I'm smiling as I type this.)

On my birthday that year, I was given one of his albums - another first for me.  It marked my transition from listening to Disney stories on an orange, plastic Mattell record player to adult contemporary music on my own stereo.  I was enamored with the entire experience.  That night, after my birthday candles were blown out, I scampered back to my room with my treasures.  I stared lovingly at my hero's album cover.  The first song on the record was called, Annie's Song.  It was beautiful and I was hooked.  Until bedtime, I played the album non-stop and sprayed my new "little girl" perfume, Lemon Sachet, all over the place.  Annie's Song and the scent of lemon - in my mind  - will always belong together.

My infatuation with John Denver remained.  In high school I kept it low key.  John Denver wasn't cool in the 1980's, not for teenage girls anyway; however, I never stopped going to his concerts or buying his albums.  I know every song by heart.  "For You", an amazingly beautiful love song, was sung at my first wedding by a dear friend.  One could say this actor and musician has always held a piece of my heart.

I don't cry often when celebrities or public officials die.  It in my mind, life is a circle.  These are people like everyone else.  Certainly some of them have made an impact on society and have entertained us, but I don't know them personally.  Their public persona is most likely not who they are privately.  They haven't befriended me in any way.  There have been a few, I admit, who've touched me in remarkable ways and when they died, I was heart broken. 

I wept when Jim Hensen, the creator of the Muppets, passed away.  I grew up with Kermit the Frog, Grover, Bert and Ernie, Big Bird, and the others.  When their father died, a little part of these characters did as well.  Sesame Street would never be the same.  I was devastated.  It was as if a piece of my childhood was laid to rest with him.  God bless his spirit and those of my Muppet friends' too.

When Gilda Radner died, I cried.  She was an amazingly funny lady and taken far too early by cancer.  She and Jane Curtin opened the door for stand out female comediennes on Saturday Night Live.  I knew - even in 1989 - that she would play a major role in my future.  Next time, when I'm on stage and attempting stand-up, I'll channel her spirit and think, "Hey Roseanne Roseannadanna, it's always something, isn't it?"

And finally, on October 12, 1997, when I heard the news that John Denver had died, I went into the bathroom stall at work and wept.  Later that afternoon, when I turned off my computer to go home, concerned co-workers asked me what was wrong.  I simply said, "A dear friend of mine died today.  He was a beautiful person and I loved him very much.  The world will be an emptier place without him."  I still feel this way.

Dear John, it's goodbye again...