My very first record, given to me by my grandfather when I was five, was John Denver’s Greatest Hits. Like a lot of massively popular music, his songs went through a wave of ubiquitousness, some years of derision and maybe a little embarrassment, until they took their place in the pantheon of full-on American classic folk pop. A few years back, I went on a road trip, and my carload of girlfriends were singing along to a John Denver mix until we were all basically babbling in tears. His music is rousing, completely sentimental, and uplifting. Corny as it sounds, a song like “Rocky Mountain High” or “Take Me Home, Country Roads” can make you feel like waving an American flag and visiting every major National Park to just salute the breathtaking beauty of this land.
None of that passion and emotion is to be found in this by-the-book British documentary.
John Denver was born an Air Force brat, with a dad who was a bonafide rock-star fighter pilot. As a sensitive young singer was relatively successful in various 60s folk bands, most notably The Mitchell Trio, but it was went he went solo, that his success was launched into the stratosphere. I can tell you, that as someone growing up in the 70s, I remember John Denver being everywhere: from the radio, to variety shows, to The Muppet Show (yay!). He even was in the movies (Oh, God, with George Burns, which is not mentioned in this doc).
But all success must fade, and by the 80s, John Denver’s marriage to Annie (yes, of “Annie’s Song”) had broken up and the hits stopped coming. It is not that I was expecting a sort of Behind the Music expose, but Denver’s dark period, including infamously cutting his marital bed in half with a chainsaw and several drunk driving incidents, are not touched upon. We instead hear that he dealt with depression by joining a New Age-y movement.
Since his passing in 1997, when he died crashing his place in the sea off the coast of Monterey, California, John Denver’s legacy has become more interesting. Denver had become a respected environmentalist, has toured the Soviet Union long before other celebrated artists like Billy Joel, and was *thisclose* to being the first civilian in space, but was replaced by teacher Christa McAuliffe on the doomed Challenger. See how interesting that paragraph is? Somehow John Denver: Country Boy makes his life a bit of a snooze.