Lately the husband and I find ourselves sharing deeply personal cultural artifacts with the boy and the girl.
The girl and I are working our way through the Betsy-Tacy-Tib books, having not long ago completed the Little House series, and even more recently, the Winnie the Pooh books. In each case, it’s been a joy and privilege to share these pieces of my heart and soul, and in each case, I’ve been stunned by the quality of the work. Of course, it was always quality, but one hears things differently when one is an adult — one gets to see, I suppose, just how genius is The Man/Woman Behind The Curtain.
And the boy has been getting the full wallop of the Lord of the Rings movies. Given their length and complete unsuitability for his younger sister, we’ve had to wait for just the right circumstances, and, this summer, on Thursday afternoons/evenings (c’mon – they’re really, really long! We’re talking extended versions, here!) — the circumstance is right. So last Thursday it was Fellowship of the Ring, today it was The Two Towers, and next Thursday: Return of the King. Huzzah! He’s loving them, we’re loving him loving them — and I am reminded, with nearly every frame, just how brilliant the work is.
Here’s the thing though: Not everything that carries a place in one’s heart is of equal value. Not everything that we might want to share is worthy of it. By this, of course, I mean: John Denver.
My first-ever concert was a John Denver show, and I very distinctly recall being blown away. I went, exactly the age my son is now, all: too-cool-for-school, all: hoping the family friends who’d given me the ticket wouldn’t embarrass me — then going home and writing in my diary that it had been (if memory serves): FAAAAAAAAAR OUT!!! Or something along those lines. There are John Denver songs that I haven’t heard in 30 years, probably, that I could sing along with, word for word, even now.
So imagine my “oooh Pookie I love you sooo much!” moment when I learned, some 18 years ago, that the man I’d fallen in love with, the man who was to become the husband, had also been into John Denver in his youth. Though Israeli-born and -bred, he and his family spent a crucial nine months living outside of DC, where he and his brother got hold of an 8-track player (yes, really) and a vewy, vewy small selection of 8-track tapes, one of which was John Denver’s Greatest Hits. Which they played over and over and over. Oh joy! Oh rapture! We were meant to be together!
Well, meant to be together we were, but neither one of us has been much of a country-folk fan since the days of our youth, and so until very recently, the only John Denver that crossed our doorway was in memory form. Until this week. Until Tuesday.
The husband, in an act of fatherly love, bought John Denver’s Greatest Hits for the boy. This follows on the successful heels of Tea for the Tillerman (Cat Stevens, before he was Yusuf Islam) and Simon and Garfunkle’s Greatest Hits, and even Paul Simon’s One Trick Pony Hearts and Bones, which, while somewhat less successful with the boy, was at least a reminder of the genius that is Paul Simon, even if the boy is not yet (at nearly-11 years old) fully appreciative.
And then: Tuesday. John Denver. Tuesday, and John Denver, and the all-too-human reminder (which, full disclosure: I’m not sure is shared by the husband) that one’s taste is, just occasionally, execrable.
I mean: Ew!
It started off all sunshine and rainbows (or should I say: poems, prayers, and promises) with me singing along, even tearing up a little at “Follow Me” — as I explained to my family (not a soul of whom was alive in the United States during the 1970s and thus none of whom could have known), “Follow Me” was played at every single wedding ever conducted during that decade. It was, for a time, the very soundtrack of true love.
And then, God help me, my ears started to really listen. I started to really hear the lyrics, first of all (“Follow me, where I go, and who I know. Make it part of you, to be a part of meeeeeeeee”), and then the orchestration, and then the heavy-handed, awkward phrasing (some of those lines are delivered so slowly that they fall in different time zones, I swear to God), and then, oh Lord, it was back to the lyrics (“I’ve seen it rainin’ fire in the sky. Friends around the campfire, and everybody’s hi-IGHHHH! Rocky Mountain high, Colorado” - oy, and etc, and you get the picture).
Well, his voice is still beautiful. And I know that those songs meant the world to many, many people — and not just easily impressed pre-teens. I find myself wondering, in an anthropological fashion, about what it was like to be an adult of the era and hear a man singing with great joy and enthusiasm about getting, and being, high (hi-IGHHHH!). I mean, sweet baby Moses, the sunshine makes him high, the mountains make him high, and then everybody gets high again, around the campfire!
Was it revelatory? Freeing? A hint that the brotherhood of man was just around the corner and all would soon be groovy and far-out and loving and, you know, hi-IGHHHH?
Or did it sound fucking stupid back then too?
I’ll likely never know (unless one of my slightly older-than-me readers wants to chime in!). But man oh man, what a lesson in humility. Cat Stevens, Paul Simon, Maud Hart Lovelace and Peter Jackson/JRR Tolkien all get to stay in the pantheon — but John Denver?
Dude. Out. On a jet plane, or whatever mode of transportation you may choose — don’t let the pantheon’s door hit you on the way out.