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Oct 19, 04 04:38 PM

I Get A Feeling That I Should Have Been Home Yesterday.


The first music I ever owned was a cassette of John Denver's Greatest Hits.

I had a mono cassette player of the type you used to find in school libraries. I would hold it to my ear, transfixed by "Country Roads," riding around Leavenworth, Kansas, in the back of my Mom's boat-like, green, 1976 Oldsmobile.

I remember as a six year old being mystified as to why anything would be so compelling as a song could be. It didn't make sense to me.

By the time I was ten, even my Mom's ABBA was hipper than John Denver; I was into Billy Joel's Glass Houses, Christopher Cross, and the soundtrack to The Muppet Movie. By the time I was twelve, it was Led Zeppelin and AC/DC, and, until recently, that's when I thought my musical existence began.

At 21, I was living in an apartment on Elizabeth and Spring Street in Manhattan. It was a shity neighborhood then. There was a crack spot down the street, a fake bodega with a severed pig's head in the glass case. It wasn't NoLIta then--it was nameless. It was no longer Little Italy, it wasn't quite Chinatown or SoHo or the LES. It occurred to me that nearly everyone in the neighborhood would consider themselves to be in a different neighborhood than the next guy.

My stoner friends and I called it Laundrytown, because there were sacks of laundry stacked in the windows up and down Elizabeth Street--many of which had fake old-timey signs that said "Antonelli Musical Instruments," or "Fine Meat Purveyor," that the crew of Godfather III had put up when shooting in the neighborhood a year or two ago, which no one bothered to take down.

I lived with a 34 year old computer programmer. He would come home every night with two quarts of Olde English and a pesto slice from Ray's on Prince Street. He had a giant collection of vinyl LP's, of which I listened to two, obsessively: Elvis Costello's My Aim Is True and Toots and the Maytals' Funky Kingston, on which the Maytals cover "Country Roads."

Somehow the hipness of Toots outweighed the "corniness" of my childish tastes. I listened to it, again, obsessively. I taped it and listened to it at work, driving around Manhattan in a van, delivering gourmet ice cream.

Sometime after I quit Soul Coughing, I went out and bought John Denver's Greatest Hits on CD. I listened to it nearly non-stop on my first solo tour; I had a tour manager that drove the rental car on that one, while I sat shotgun, getting drunk the whole time.

I stopped the liquor, and ended up firing the tour manager in favor of driving myself, but I still went through obsessive periods of "Country Roads." I still do, actually.

I wrote this in an earlier entry: in August of this year, on one of my last nights in Ethiopia, I went to a bar in the town of Bahar Dar with a bunch of waiters, drivers, and guides from my hotel. They got shitfaced and danced; I didn't get shitfaced, but I danced with them, or watched them dance in the dim space walled with warped mirrors and lit with Christmas lights.

At one point, after an Aster Aweke song, or maybe R. Kelly's "Step in the Name of Love" (a ubiquitous hit in Bahar Dar), a cheesy house version of "Country Roads" came over the soundsystem. The whole place surged out onto the dance floor with wild energy of abandon.

What an incredible tune, even in that weird Eurodisco version. All of those Ethiopians were shouting the lyrics, or syllabic approximations of the lyrics. I was sitting on the couches in a dark corner, with the only other guy in our group that wasn't drinking, a guide named Genanew.

Mid-song, I turned to Genanew and sang along with every word of the bridge. Much to his astonishment. Because no one else in the whole fierce, crazy, drunken place seemed to know that part: "I hear her voice, in the morning hour she calls me--radio reminds me of my home, far away..."

Posted by Mike at October 19, 2004 4:38 PM

If you look at the neon sign right, it looks like a blue-eyed monster with jagged teeth.

The babysitter played us John Denver when I was in second grade, and my Mom was named Ann so she dug Annie's Song on the station wagon tape deck when I was a kid. I came as John Denver in handcuffs to Hallowen in 1993 and last year briefly played drums in a band called John Denver's Head, named for when search parties couldn't find his cranium in the days after his plane crash.

When Magnum P.I died in that one episode, he walked off to heaven to the tune of (I think it was) Horses and Eagles, one of those John Denver tunes about an eagle, it could have been that other one maybe.

Miss Piggy tried to get with him on an episode of the Muppet Show, and said that he looked better with glasses than without them.

I too would quit the grocery store if God told me too.

Those are most but not all of my John Denver stories.

Posted by: Portland at October 19, 2004 5:20 PM

When I was little, I used to be obsessed with a John Denver and The Muppets Christmas tape. My Mom recently found it on CD and still plays it repeatedly every opportunity she gets. It's funny, because John Denver, for me, is now inextricably linked with the holidays.

Posted by: moisi at October 19, 2004 6:18 PM

I was in Munich, Germany recently and went with people from the conference I was attending out to Oktoberfest. I didn't have a good time, but one of the more ironic/sad moments was sitting in the middle of a crowded beer tent, surrounded by thousands of drunk Germans, all singing along to an live oompah band playing John Denver's "Country Home".

Posted by: UnwiredBen at October 19, 2004 7:23 PM

when i was five, my uncle started buying me KISS albums. i had Destroyer, Asylum, Rock and Roll Over, all the Solo Albums, Double Platinum, Unmasked and Love Gun by the time i was seven. i played them all on a Fischer Price record player.

when i was six, my parents bought me a Muppets Drumset for christmas with an enormous picture of Animal on the kick. i remember constantly playing along to Back in the New York Groove on Ace Frehley's solo album, attempting to figure out how that open to closed hi-hat sound was made.

Posted by: rob from colorado at October 19, 2004 8:06 PM

It is amazing how songs that we hear when our consciousness is so new can have such a profound and lifelong impact on us. I love this entry, it is the most interesting thing I've read on this site thus far. I remember the music my parents listened to when I was young, a lot of country and western, Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, Willie, music that I cultivated an incredible disdain for in Junior High and High School. Now I let myself enjoy it again, and John Denver has long been one of my guilty pleasures. Just as an aside, I have heard, so this is a totally unsubstantiated
rumor, that John Denver held the record for killing the most Viet Cong, and for the longest distance kill when he was in Viet Nam. If you ever need a driver for one of your tours, I'd be happy to volunteer. I'm fully insured. :)

Posted by: Lauren at October 19, 2004 8:37 PM

It was you in Leavenworth Kansas, and in Leavenworth Washington there was me as a child visiting relatives(we had a volvo, it was grey and stuck in the tape deck was John Denver). It's funny how these places are only alike in name, but the key to opening their lost moments are the same song. It's easy to be too cool to let Mr. Denver have a place in the heavy rotation CD pile. But cool as I am, there is something about his songs, (similar to certain smells) that can take me back to a very specific place in my past. Some of the only good moments I remember with my father are of my dad playing his guitar and singing the very songs I pretend to be too cool to listen to.
I want to say that after reading your blog and all the other comments, it seems that for whatever reason we all have a song that we wrap our personal experiences around and are grateful when it becomes the thread that pulls us back in time. People really resopnded to this last blog of yours in a way I havn't seen them do before. Thank you for sharing all of that with us, it seemed really personal/honest and I don't think I was the only one who was drawn to it. Thank you for reminding me how much I love John Denver. I'm glad you also write songs.

Posted by: Another Seattle Fan at October 19, 2004 11:57 PM

You are not alone, Mike.

Posted by: apoxuponme at October 20, 2004 12:42 AM

thanks for posting this, mike. i write these kinds of posts in my journal sometimes; it's nice to see someone write about music in the way that i think of it.

actually, there's a book called _bridges with spirit_ by adam voith in which he does this too. the kind of book where you just buy five copies because you will inevitably find someone to give them to. you might like it.

Posted by: jim at October 20, 2004 3:01 AM

"Country Roads" also filled the dance floor at a rural Danish harvest festival (hostfest) I went to with members of my archaeological dig team. Mostly we were getting synthesizer renditions of the pop hits of the 80s, and then that song came on and the Danes went insane.

They also used to play that same disco-thingy version every week at karaoke night in this little pub down the street from where I lived in Langley Moor in northeastern England.

Posted by: James Holloway at October 20, 2004 6:45 AM

i performed once in my entire life on a stage, just this year. i played one song solo "blackbird" and three other songs with another guy. one of them was "rocky mountain high." total crowd pleaser.

but i love love to play "country roads" even more-- it's so fulfilling, for lack of a better word, which i have a lot of lack of.

i saw a tv movie about him recently. who's the kid who played him? he did a great job. i'm in love with him. i'm in love with everything today and it's all because of john denver. well and the red sox. yay!

but i jape!

Posted by: itchy at October 20, 2004 7:18 AM

My ultra-cool boyfriend in 1979 copied Elvis Costello's "My Aim is True" and "This Year's Model" onto cassettes for me, along with a hodge-podge including Led Zeppelin, Gary Numan, and Bad Company. Every time I hear the name 'Romeo', I have to chant, out loud, "...was restless he was ready to kill, jumped out the window 'cause he couldn't sit still, Juliet was waitin' with a safety net, he said don't bury me 'cause I'm not dead yet." I love the fact that kid-stuff hangs on in your everyday adult life! I simply must find that Beta tape of Elvis Costello videos (not that I can play it anymore, puh). Those epic John Denver tunes with his voice arching high above can bring me to nostalgic tears....

Posted by: Deb at October 20, 2004 4:22 PM

speaking of covers and R. Kelly, check out this mp3 :

the mountain goats medley-ing "the boys are back in town" and "ignition remix." phenomenal shit right there.

Posted by: laura at October 22, 2004 3:03 PM

i did a production of "pippin" once where we'd sing "country roads" for every warm up. all the musicians were in the pit and it was the only song that anyone in the cast could play that we could also sing (are there words to the peanuts song?).

Posted by: erika at October 25, 2004 5:26 PM

John Denver was my first concert. 1977, Philadelphia. It was all I wanted for my birthday. I was 6 years old.

Posted by: mh at October 29, 2004 6:27 PM