My parents moved fifteen times before I was fifteen years old so I spent a lot of time alone. I remember sitting in my room in a house on a hill in Sun Valley, California, listening to music with headphones on, finding comfort and even guidance in some lyrics, but only annoyance and more confusion in other music of the time. (The 1970’s) One can only deduce that much of it was written under the influence of psychotropic, hallucinogenic substances. To a kid or anyone else struggling to figure out the world and people, clear guidance is a wonderful thing. Unfortunately, songs that became popular and were played over and over again were not clear at all. Here are a few examples.
In and around the lake
Mountains come out of the sky and they
(Roundabout by Yes. Not helpful.)
Mars ain’t the kind of place
to raise your kids.
In fact, it’s cold as hell
and there’s no one there to raise them
if you did.
(Rocket Man by Elton John. Again, not helpful.)
Some people call me Maurice ’cause I speak of the pompitous of love.
(The Joker by The Steve Miller Band. I really like this song but what the heck is going on with this lyric? I heard Steve even made up the word “pompitous” just to confuse people even more. File under Not Helpful.)
“I am”… I said
To no one there
And no one heard at all
Not even the chair
(I am, I Said by Neil Diamond, apparently tiring of his rich and famous singer life and attempting to tap into Rene Descartes’ territory.)
Muskrat Suzie, Muskrat Sam
Do the jitterbug at a Muskrat Land
And they shimmy, Sam is so skinny
(Muskrat Love by Captain and Tennille. Originally recorded by America. I remember liking this song’s soft, gentle, soothing quality but I didn’t know what a muskrat was, and just having the word “rat” in its name made the song hard to like because one of them that got stuck in our garage took a chunk out of the front wheel of my beloved Big Wheel, either because it was starving or dulling its front teeth, which I hear will grow and grow forever (kind of like human fingernails) and cause the rat to starve to death because it can’t shut its mouth. Yet another reason to not like rats, muskrats, or any other kind of rat. Or songs about rat love.)
Someone left the cake out in the rain
I don’t think that I can take it
’cause it took so long to bake it
And I’ll never have that recipe again
(MacArthur Park by Donna Summer. Even as a kid, I knew a weird metaphor when I heard one.)
A Horse With No Name by America – the entire song, but here are the more confusing lyrics of the entire nightmarish bunch.
You see I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name
It felt good to be out of the rain
In the desert you can remember your name
Cause there ain’t no one for to give you no pain
And yet a hit song played repeatedly forever and ever.
‘Cause the free wind is blowin’ through your hair
And the days surround your daylight there
Seasons crying no despair
Alligator lizards in the air, in the air
(Ventura Highway – America. I like this song melodically, too, but again, these lyrics only added to the already immense confusion of my youth.)
One singer more than any other rescued me. His name was John Denver.
He was the best-selling singer of the 1970’s. In other words, what Elvis was to the 50’s and The Beatles were to the 60’s, John was to the 70’s. He was so popular then and even today because he was able to write easy-to-understand but deeply emotional lyrics.
I had a speech teacher in college who said if I had a choice between a simple word and an obscure one, I should choose the simple one because, though the obscure one might impress a few people, it would cause many others to lose track of what I was saying, and if the audience didn’t understand, it was my fault, not theirs.
My brother went to the dark side, listening to not only confusing lyrics but deeply toxic ones by death metal groups. I warned him that music is like a chant – it gets into our psyches more deeply than anything else because we listen to it hundreds, even thousands of times, and melodies (using the term loosely) and rhyming verse are easy for the human mind to remember. We can be purified or polluted by music. As with everything in life, it is always our choice whether we see the bars of our prison or the stars beyond them.
John helped audiences put their own difficult feelings into words, not confuse them even more. That’s what great writers, poets and singers should do. For example, after all the lyrics above, isn’t this refreshing?
Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy.
Sunshine in my eyes can make me cry.
Sunshine on the water looks so lovely.
Sunshine almost always makes me high.
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.
(The Eagle and The Hawk)
Well, I got me a fine wife, I got my old fiddle.
When the sun’s coming’ up, I got cakes on the griddle.
Life ain’t nothin’ but a funny, funny riddle.
(Thank God I’m a Country Boy.)
Almost heaven, West Virginia.
Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River.
Life is old there, older than the trees.
Younger than the mountains, blowin’ like the breeze.
Country roads, take me home
to the place I belong.
West Virginia, mountain momma,
take me home, country roads.”
(Take Me Home, Country Roads)
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.
I learned how to write from John Denver, how to love and respect nature, and how to live a good and decent life. He helped me climb out of one of the loneliest times in my life and invited me to explore the fields, forests, rivers and mountains of Colorado with him that he loved so much. The best artists can do that. They take you along. They transport you out of the world you’re in and show you how great life can be if you never knew, or remind you if you’ve forgotten. That’s the kind of artist I want to be.
Get John’s music here – https://www.amazon.com/John-Denver/e/B000AR80Z0/mrw02-20