This originally appeared in Mountain Gazette in 2005 or 2006. It used to be live on their site, but was taken down when they updated it. I thought of this because my mom sent me a link to this NPR story about the origins of ‘Take Me Home Country Roads’. -M
John Denver Anonymous
The girls remember CDs in the bronco, but when I close my eyes and think of John Denver I’m in the red and white VW buss we had when we lived in Michigan and drove out to Colorado every summer. The heater didn’t work, that won’t surprise anyone, but we had an 8-track player and a John Denver tape, cassette, I don’t remember what they were called. It was an old van even then, and when we moved out to Colorado my parents bought the bronco with a one-speaker AM/FM cassette radio.
This all came up, I have to say, after hearing John Denver on my IPOD just now. I’m thankful it was only that, my own private headphone concert, not a blaring faux pas over PC speakers. It was a live recording of Country Roads from who-knows-where. I don’t know how the track got on my computer, but Itunes thinks it’s Ice Ice Baby. Either way, I knew what it was, and sitting at my desk off the main laboratory I fought back the vocals.
My name is Mike, and I like John Denver. There: it really does feel good to get something like that out. And I won’t apologize or feel ashamed. My music collection kicks ass. I’ve got everything from Ella Fitzgerald to Alice Donut. Nine inch Nails to Garage A Trois. Django Reinhardt to Theivery Corporation. I know my shit. Nevertheless, there’s a John Denver track on my IPOD, and my only regret is that it is the only one there.
Eventually the little holes in the dashboard of Dad’s bronco filled with dirt and leaves and the speaker gave out. No more JD or anything else. But that was the truck that got the whole family to the mountains to go camping and climbing and biking and hiking and skiing. So he had a nice CD player and in-door stereo speakers installed. He even got the add-on speaker boxes for the back seat so my sisters and I could hear. We bought CDs: John Denver’s Greatest Hits: volumes one and two. That and Full Moon Fever could get us from Bakersfield up to Dome Rock and, to my mother’s chagrin, back.
It would eventually come around to Country roads as we were on Western Divide Highway a few miles from Dome Rock. It was like the finale of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” with five sweaty and restless people belting out, Almost heaven/ West Virginia/ Blue Ridge mountains/Shenandoah river.
Now, I should say that none of us has ever been to the places in that song, but a country road is a country road. You can get a rocky mountain high in the Blue Ridge, or the Sangre De Christo or the Sierra Nevada. And the dirt road to Elephant Knob, with it’s switchbacks and water-bars, and steep hills mandating a high clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicle was powerful because our home was down a four-lane, divided, suburban boulevard to condos with manicured landscaping and a private parkway.
Would it have been the same if it had been Dwight Yoakam on the mono 8-track, then cassette, then CD? Would I feel like less of a dork if we’d listened to Lyle Lovett, instead of good old JD as we drove down the Porterville highway, or the road from Denver to Buena Vista, or Reno to Bishop? For that matter, could we have built memories and lasting bonds over any recording artist along with whom we all could sing and know every word, chorus and bridge of every song on the greatest hits collection? It’s likely, but we had JD. And, what’s more, we aren’t the only ones.
I’ve heard whispered rumors of other families belting out Rocky Mountain High, and Thank God I’m a Country Boy (I won’t even mention Grandma’s Featherbed.) on their way up to their favorite weekend camping spot, fishing stream, or climbing crag; I’ve heard candid admissions from punked-out twentysomethings having tender coronary regions for JD and Leaving on a Jet Plane–singing plaintively along with Sunshine on my Shoulders or Wild Flowers in a Mason Jar, or tearing up over Farewell Andromeda.
I know you’re out there. You’re not alone.