… something touched me deep inside
the day… the music died… 

Long EZ plane 2

October 14, 1997 – A gorgeous sunny late-afternoon over the ragged coast edge of the Pacific Ocean. The plane went into a steep bank, then in a surreal second, plunged downwards in an abrupt nose-down descent.

Yes, another news report, the kind we encounter from time to time as we go about our normal day.

We listen but our heartbeat doesn’t change rhythm or pace, our eyes don’t cloud up with misty tears. 

At first, rescuers could not identify the pilot’s body because the face was burned beyond recognition, but authorities were later able to identify him by his fingerprints.

But once every year or two, a report of this nature catches our interest more than others. When you get to the list of names below you’ll see what I mean.

John Denver, the singer and songwriter who was the voice of wholesome sincerity and simple country pleasures in the 1970’s, died when the light plane he was piloting crashed into Monterey Bay in California.

A Rocky Mountain High battered into a deep-sea low… the day… the music died.

The experimental Long-EZ aircraft was macerated and mangled into the earth and rocks… in a momentary inhale, the metronome lost a tick of its time forever.

The death of those who’ve affected our own world, our outlooks, our philosophies, have greater meaning and impact than those of strangers. It’s natural.

John Denver

This morning I’ve been practicing one of John Denver’s 1970’s hit songs, Sunshine On My Shoulders, on my guitar.

I’ve put this tune with it’s simple melody and simpler yet moving lyrics on my set list to play at an Open Mic tonight.

The distinctive, repetitive hammer-on of the G chord into an Am7 is instantly recognizable and comforting in its lilt. Then, the chorus hook transition from Am7 to Bm to C invokes a deep inner emotional tug, stirring up smiles and tears.

Simple stuff but it reminds me of the power of music.

I’m a sucker for the purity and simplicity of John Denver’s songs.

While playing this song, my (lack of) focus veered and soared away into the clouds with the music.

Maybe it was the distressing thought of young hockey players tragically perishing in a bus crash this week.

Maybe it was the heartbreak of lost potential, the devastation of what could have been. Futures denied.

……………….

Whatever the volcanic heat and pressure that rose upwards, it brought to the surface of my mind the many other musical performers besides Denver who’ve perished in airplane mishaps over the past 50 years or so.

Ricky Nelson

  • Glenn Miller
  • Buddy Holly
  • Patsy Cline
  • Jim Croce
  • Otis Redding
  • Jim Reeves
  • Ricky Nelson
  • Stan Rogers
  • Lynyrd Skynyrd

The death of musical icons (I was crushed when Harry Chapin died in a car crash in 1981) is often like losing a close family member or a treasured pet.

A fragrant puff of smoke rises in a gypsy dance then dissipates in the breeze. Gone.

Maybe you were deeply affected by the death of Elvis or Whitney or Kurt or Michael (I don’t even need to list their last names, you know who I’m referring to).

We live the trajectory of our lives to our very own very personal soundtrack.

The writers and musicians who gift us this soundtrack meld with our soul, helping to explain us to ourselves and others.

Don’t you think every funeral or Celebration of Life should be accompanied… not just by the photos that show us what the lost beloved looked like as they grew and aged from childhood to (hopefully) old age, but…

… also the musical sounds that communicate and define that flesh and blood human in ways truly deeper than their physical appearance.

  • A devout Christian should have Amazing Grace and Rock of Ages resounding.
  • An ardent Naturalist should have bird songs and ephemeral new-age music.
  • A Spiritualist should have yoga chanting and sitar strings sending them off.
  • A deeply-felt Feminist should have the sounds of Joni Mitchell and Lady Gaga and Pussy Riot and The Dixie Chicks.

Paul, a good friend of mine in Hamilton, will need to have a week-long Celebration of Life to begin to capture his love of the musician community. It is an entity unto itself, the way we worship the superhuman skill set of a Wayne Gretzky or a Lindsay Vonn or a Michael Jordan. He was handcuffed to music, all music, all genres, at birth and the keys were tossed away.

Of course when Don McLean opined about the airplane crash that killed Buddy Holly (and Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper) and the day the music died… he was feeling that deep sadness that envelopes us when a treasured limb is cut off. The feeling of loss is cavernous and raw and slow to dissipate.

Snap to it now.

All this talk of premature dying has me down in the dumps (yeah, it’s grey and cloudy outside too!).

I’m going to pick up my guitar and raise myself from the depths with a couple of verses of Rocky Mountain High. I want to feel and hear the eagles soar…

John Denver and so many of his harmonious brethren have flown and are gone, but they’ve left us with lots of tunes to help us arise and feel the joy of Sunshine On My Shoulders.

Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy
Sunshine in my eyes can make me cry
Sunshine on the water looks so lovely
Sunshine almost all the time makes me high

John Denver with muppets.png