Al Gore, John Denver 10 years after his death

John Denver during Wildlife Concert video

I have my Mom and YMCA Blue Ridge Leaders School to thank for my love of John Denver.

I went to my first concert with my mother around 1989 or 1990 at Riverbend, an amphitheater owned by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra on the eastern edge of Cincinnati. That was two years after my mother went with a friend (she had gone to many of his concerts), the exact day I was getting home from Blue Ridge for the first time (I’d go four more times). Mom told me she wouldn’t see me that night right away because she’d be at the concert. No big deal.

But as I was coming home on the bus with all the members of area YMCA Leaders Club I was actually envious of my mother going to the concert. Now I wanted to go with her. Strange how experiences when you’re a teenager really flip viewpoints so quickly. Our minds are developing and opinions are forming so quickly.

Two years later I went with her to the concert, had pretty good seats and I was exposed to a lot more of his music. Up to that point I had heard “Follow Me,” “Sunshine On My Shoulders,” “What One Man Can Do” (still one of my favorites) and “I Want To Live.” That night at Riverbend it opened up a much broader appreciation of his music. That was the night I really became a fan.

His music was, and still is, very inspiring, comforting and thought-proking to me. Whether he was singing about love, relationships won or lost, breakthroughs in his understanding of himself or how the world is or his passion – deep and devoted – about the environment, I remember just feeling like I “got” what he was talking about. Still do. It helped spark my strong and continuing commitment to our environment.

John Denver concerts – I made it to two – were the most relaxing, peaceful things I have ever done in my life. I always loved and remembered the feeling it gave me.

My love of John Denver’s music has been a source of great teasing and ridicule by my friends. I’m way used to it by now, so feel free to launch another one, if you must. Just know over on the other half of the country – where I’ve called home a few times and for extended periods in my life – everyone loves John Denver. My passion for the singer was accepted as blind devotion to a political party. Here, John Denver obsession just gets strange looks. During my three summers as a camp counselor at Kennolyn Camps near Santa Cruz, Calif., my love for his music was well-known and appreciated.

Friday, Oct. 12, 2007 made it 10 years since JD died after his plane plummeted into the bay off of Monetery, Calif. My former co-counselor (and co-photography instructor) Julie Bliss was working that Sunday morning at the restaurant nearest where the plane crashed.

I was living with my grandmother in Springfield Township at the time. I remember logging into my America Online account that morning, glancing down to see the top story (they always teased just one) in the Welcome box and reading that John Denver was dead. I remember feeling mortally wounded, and how surreal it felt to be mourning a person I had never met.

What unfolded the rest of the day help soften the blow. Calls and e-mails (but mostly calls, not too many were online yet) started pouring into my grandmother’s house. Friends from all around the world – Kennolyn had staff from all over the world – and many from Cincinnati called me to see how I was doing and to express their sympathy. I bet 40 people contacted me that day. They were upset, too, and that was good to know. Grandma was puzzled why I was getting so many calls. It was driving her batty.

JD’s love for the environment was widely known. He started the Windstar Foundation in 1976 to bring attention to the cause – making him one of the first “green” people – an environmentalist long before caring for the environment was cool. Had Denver not died 10 years ago Friday I wonder if he would have been the one to finally get most people in agreement that something needs to be done about global climate change.

So, I thought it fitting that former Vice President Al Gore won the Nobel Prize on the 10-year anniversary of JD’s death. I bet JD, who was 53 years old when he died, was looking down and grinning ear to ear, realizing that we left here on “Spaceship Earth,” as he often referred to the planet, are finally heeding some of the warnings that he touted throughout most of his life.

Whether Gore or the Nobel judges or the reporters who reported on the award noticed – it doesn’t matter. The message is out there and something is finally being done about it. And that’s better than any John Denver song.

Author: Joe Wessels

Joe Wessels is a freelance journalist and photographer. Wessels covers local news events for Thomson Reuters news service and features for About.com's Cincinnati Guide site, plus is the executive director of hyperlocal news site, iRhine.com. He wrote for The Cincinnati Post, covering Cincinnati City Hall and Hamilton County government and wrote a weekly political column, which continued weekly at Cincinnati CityBeat. Previously, he was a reporter for the Cincinnati Business Courier and writes or has written for several publications in Cincinnati and around the country including The Cincinnati Enquirer, Las Vegas Review-Journal, Cincinnati Magazine, Cincy Magazine and the Sacramento News & Review. He is a native of Colerain Township, one of Cincinnati's western suburbs, and now lives in Over-the-Rhine near downtown Cincinnati. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology and a journalism writing certificate from the University of Cincinnati. He also graduated from Colerain High School, is an avid photographer, news junkie and was once a roller rink disc jockey, and sometimes rides a scooter around town.

4 thoughts on “Al Gore, John Denver 10 years after his death”

  1. JD is the coolest (and had the best initials, too :P). He had such an adventuresome spirit that I actually think he would be dismayed at some of the restrictions on freedom that are being implemented in the name of saving the planet. But gosh, hard to believe it’s so long since he passed.

  2. I didn’t know Mr. Denver (but that wudda been cool), but I think some restrictions on the environment – to counter the greed that can sometimes come from unchecked capitalism – would have been fine with him. You only have to listen to the lyrics of “Rocky Mountain High” to know that.

    Which brings up a good point: One ideology over another ain’t the answer. It’s a blend of all ideas that makes the world go ’round. It’s kinda like this democracy thing we got goin’ on here – as long as all ideas are welcome…

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