annie’s song -- 1/13/23
Today's selection -- from Take Me Home: An Autobiography by John Denver and Arthur Tobier. In 1974, at a time when he had already begun to have significant trouble in his relationship with his wife, Annie, John Denver wrote the transcendent love song titled “Annie’s Song”:
"I think I'm most myself when I'm writing a song because I'm trying to be honest with what's happening. I'm open. I'm really listening. You're in touch with a whole spectrum of moods, you really are. You listen to this thing that's going on in your head and the thoughts take direction. Suddenly there is a line of words on your tongue, and that one line brings with it hundreds of others. And then it depends on the day, and on the season, and on where you are -- late winter, early spring in Minnesota, for example. One year I was inspired by early spring in Minnesota to write four great songs in one day. The moods came on.
"The first draft of a song is in my head when I sit down to learn it on the guitar. Sometimes the melody has to be changed, but once you get it started, once you sit down and learn it with the instrument, the learning of it -- actually being able to sing it leads you someplace. It's the discovery of your song that's so wonderful. In fact, if I start out thinking I'm in control of it, it doesn't work.
"There were times when I'd be struggling with a song, and then when I'd get out of the way, the song would be there. In neon lights. Right in front of me. It's a way of looking, I think. What you need to see comes forward once you stop trying to see it.
"I wrote 'Annie's Song' riding up in a ski lift one day early in 1974. It was soon after our first serious separation, and we'd just come back together. There was nobody on the mountain when I started out that day. No lines. I skied down this very tough run, all out of breath, my heart pounding, my thighs burning, and I skied right onto the lift. I'm riding up again, sitting there catching my breath, looking down at where I'd just been a few moments ago, all this physical stuff going on, when suddenly I'm hypersensitive to how beautiful everything is; the sky is a blue you only see from mountaintops. Then I became aware of the other people skiing, the colors of their clothes, the birds singing, the sound of the lift, the sibilant sound of the skiers going down the mountain. All of these things filled up my senses, and when I said this to myself, unbidden images came one after the other. The night in the forest, a walk in the rain. The mountains in springtime. All of the pictures merged and then what I was left with was Annie.
"That song was the embodiment of the love that I felt at the time. The embodiment of that emotion was this person, my wife. So the song got to be about her and about all of my complex feelings in regard to her. In the ten minutes it took to reach the top of the mountain, the song was there. I skied back down, drove home, went up to my office, and learned the song on the guitar.
"In my songs, I could say things that I didn't seem able to say directly to Annie. I needed the form and the music to help me communicate. And even with the music, what was frustrating was the feeling of never seeming to complete the communication. When I started recording, I'd come home from the studio with the song I was working on finally sounding like what I had heard in my head and I'd play it for Annie, and she would tum professional on me.
"'Isn't there too much echo?' 'Aren't the drums too loud?'
"'Isn't the guitar out of tune?' It was as if she was indifferent to the song itself. She claimed, in fact, to have fallen in love with me despite my songs, not because of them.
"She didn't want to be in my shadow. She wanted to be responsible for herself and to do her own thing.
Whatever meaning 'Annie's Song' had for me on a personal level, there was also a larger context. I wrote it to speak to what is universal in the human experience, to transcend a couple of lovers. It could just as easily have been about love for a brother. Or a father. Or a friend. It could just as easily have been a prayer."