Friday, October 12, 2007

The Mystery of Small Planes

I blogged a few weeks ago about Amelia Earhart and the small plane that let her down in the end; she disappeared in 1937, and how she died remains the subject of debate. America is still awaiting news of explorer Steve Fossett, who disappeared in his small plane on September 3rd. And on this day in 1997, John Denver crashed in his small plane and died on impact.

Many a celebrity and many an adventurer has died in a small plane crash; Denver's death was particularly sad for me, because I'd always been a fan of his music. While some criticized Denver for not being country enough and others simply labeled him as weird, I always recognized the poet in him--all one had to do was listen to his songs.

Denver focused on nature and positive feelings. His tribute to his first wife Annie, appropriately named "Annie's Song," was one of the loveliest tributes ever written. How could a woman not be flattered when a man claimed "You fill up my senses/like a night in a forest; like the mountains in springtime/like a walk in the rain; like a storm in the desert, like a sleepy blue ocean. You fill up my senses; come fill me again." ?

One of my favorite Denver tunes was a little-known anthem to nature called Eagle and Hawk. It went:

"Oh, I am the eagle, I live in high country
In rocky cathedrals that reach to the sky;
I am the hawk, and there's blood on my feathers,
But time is still turning, they soon will be dry.
And all those who see me, and all who believe in me,
Share in the freedom I feel when I fly . . .

Come dance with the west wind and
Touch all the mountaintops;
Sail oe'r the canyons and up to the stars--
And reach for the heavens and hope for the future,
All that you can be, not what you are."

Denver's crash shocked me, because I had just seen him on a talk show a couple of days before. He was fifty-three but looked ten years younger; he was happy and positive and talking about new music he was going to be making. And then, in an instant, he was gone in the way so many others had been gone before him. Like Earhart and Fossett, Denver couldn't resist flying, and his aircraft was considered experimental.

Denver's website claims that "John Denver’s generosity of spirit colored his music with a pure, simple grace, casting a spell that crossed the barriers of age, economics, geography, language and politics."

I would have to agree. And while Denver accomplished much, not only in his music but in acts of philanthropy, I wish he had been given a bit more time.

Photo link.


Anonymous said...

I recall how back in August of 1979, during the baseball season, New York Yankees catcher Thurman Munson was killed piloting a small plane. That was a shock.

What a terrible irony that Steve Fossett should die, as it seems he did, in a crash during a routine flight after all his daredevil exploits. I followed his various balloon trips with great interest.

Julia Buckley said...

Really! I thought the same thing. And how many times must he have contemplated death, when he did something daring, but probably didn't give that last particular flight a second thought. Sobering.

Karen Olson said...

The first concert I ever went to was a John Denver concert. I usually don't mention that, since most of my friends remember their first concerts as The Who, the Stones another early '70s band. But I still remember the concert vividly; he'd written the song Calypso about Jacques Cousteau's boat, and he showed film of it while he sang. Regardless of his "weird" reputation, he was a great musician.

Julia Buckley said...

I loved Calypso, Karen! And I think Denver was very devoted to issues of the environment; I'm sure he'd be very involved with environmental issues today.

I also remember watching a special on TV about the making of that song, with footage of Cousteau going under the water in his boat and his sleek black wetsuit.