leaving on a jet plane -- 12/9/22

Today's selection -- from Take Me Home: An Autobiography by John Denver and Arthur Tobier. In 1966, John Denver wrote the song "Leaving on a Jet Plane." It was a time when he was not in a relationship, and so the song was more a projection for the love he hoped to have, rather than one he already had:
"The money continued to be a problem in those days and I spent a lot of nights in airports. In Chicago one night, I couldn't afford the twenty-dollar cab ride in from O'Hare and the hotel, so I occupied a chair in the terminal. I remember it being such a long, cold night. It seems to me I had similar moments at Newark and Kennedy airports: short on funds, sleeping in chairs instead of beds. If ever I felt needy, it was during this period.

"The worst time was when I had tonsillitis during a three- or four-day layover in Manhattan. There was no one around to rescue me, and I was down to my last thirty-five cents. I had been staying at the Great Northern Hotel, thinking that I simply had a terrible cold. Finally on Sunday, I had to go to the emer­gency room at Roosevelt Hospital to get something for the pain. The resident on duty wanted to admit me for a tonsillectomy, but I refused; it didn't feel right. I wanted to wait to talk with Milt in the morning. About two A.M. I spent the thirty-five cents on a milk shake; I couldn't take the pain any longer. That was the only thing that got me through the night.

"We had a couple of weeks to kill after that second engagement at the Cellar Door and, having no place in particular to go, I stayed around Washington. I had a lot of friends in the area and one of them, Jim Cunningham, invited me to stay with him and his roommate at their place in Virginia. I was beginning to forget what it felt like to have a settled life. In Chicago that summer, finding myself with some money in the bank, I'd bought a Tri­umph 500 motorcycle -- if Dad wasn't going to honor me for my success, I'd do it myself -- which I drove back to Washington. I felt it lent me an air of being a man in control of his own destiny. I was recording, I was performing, I was on my own, and I had wheels again.

"I kept busy those two weeks doing things with friends, letting certain feelings work their way to the surface. One night, when Jim and his roommate went to a party, I decided to stay put and started out the evening working on an oil painting. I'd gotten interested in painting while studying architecture in college. I was playing around with an idea. I had a six-pack of beer and a couple of sandwiches. And then I picked up my guitar and wrote a song with my soul wide open and my mind picturing the scene as if it stood before me, real enough to touch. I called it 'Oh, Babe, I Hate to Go.' 

"I wrote the song not so much out of the experience of feeling that way for someone, as out of the longing to have someone to love. When I got through, I knew I'd written my best song yet. It was so exciting that, late as it was, I called Andy Poole, a friend who lived in the District, roused her from her sleep, and rode the Triumph over to her place to sing it for her. She was really knocked out by it, as were a few other people I sang it for."

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John Denver and Arthur Tobier


John Denver: An Autobiography


Headline Book Publishing


Copyright 1994 John Denver


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