Two Evenings with John Denver

John Denver
John Denver

Two friends of ours are writing a show about John Denver. They asked me to jot down some memories of his visit to Beijing when I was living there as a kid. I sent this draft along to them and thought I’d share it here too.

We were living in Beijing, China around 1980 when John Denver came through (this was third or fourth grade for me). There were few Americans in Beijing at the time, so the visit was surprisingly intimate.

I remember having him over to dinner at our apartment. I don’t know how the invitation happened, exactly, but John Denver was a major rock star in our home—the family sound track. He accompanied our road trips, was my first choice to peck out on the piano after lessons, and “Leaving on a Jet Plane” was the anthem we sang whenever my father flew off on trips. We had a young woman named Annie living with us at the time, and she was so excited that I thought she was going to pass out when he came through the door.

Of the conversation that night I don’t remember much. From my perspective, it was typical adult banter, not very exciting. I recall snippets about his trip, his song-writing process, and life back home in the states. It was all very easy-going, and Denver was funny and personable. The only thing that sticks from the conversation is his explanation of how his vocal range improved over the course of a tour. At the beginning of a tour he couldn’t hit the highest notes but his voice would loosen up further after each show. By the end of the tour, he had access to his full range.

Annie and I scored the best seats at dinner, flanking him, and he remained gregarious and fun. He asked if we had any requests for the concert the following night, and I asked for “Grandma’s Feather Bed,” the best song EVER. Annie, of course, requested “Annie’s Song.”

The next evening was the concert at the embassy—a small gathering in the ambassador’s living room. Kids sat on the soft rug up front with parents on chairs and couches behind. This was probably my first real concert, or at least the first one that I enjoyed. I remember it being a glorious night with lots of spontaneous dancing and laughter. Denver took requests for most of the show. For some of his obscure songs he couldn’t remember all the lines, so he would make them up or ask the audience for help. The kids found this endlessly amusing. There were also a few songs that went too high, so he couldn’t pull them off. Most of them, though, were perfect. At some point I raised my hand and reminded him to play his best song, Grandma’s Feather Bed, prompting laughter from the grown-ups. He played it with verve as we leaped and laughed.

That’s all I remember from the concert. As I grew up and developed my own tastes, John Denver fell out of favor. He represented my parents’ music—not cool. Twenty-some years after the Beijing concert, however, and a few years after Denver’s death, I bought an iPod and visited the iTunes store; my first purchase was, “An Evening With John Denver.”

Snow Day

First snow day I’ve had since the seventies. But Griffin’s preschool was still on, so we took the kids via sled. We should all travel by sled more.

Whole30, Day 19

Second and third weeks have gone pretty well, overall. No epiphanies or wild bursts of energy, but I feel fairly stable and the cravings are less extreme. Still some funny food dreams now and then, like last night’s extended episode featuring Dr. Pepper and chocolate.

The biggest challenge for me has been the afternoons at school. I get the munchies big-time when I’m working at my desk. Not sure if its just something to ride out or if it means I’m missing some nutrient or something like that. Is there a “perfect snack” that would calm the cravings without exacerbating them? Or should the lunch mix be altered?

One thing I have been depending on is dates. We bought some tubs of Medjool dates from Costco and I used them to combat my cravings for other banned snacks. (If you’re a date-fan, these mongo dates are pretty spectacular.) Technically they are allowed on the Whole30 since they are a natural fruit, but they are sugar bombs—nature’s candy. This week I’ve been pulling back on them, culminating in a complete moratorium yesterday. My sense is that the dates were basically feeding the beast, maintaining a hunger for sugar. Possibly coincidentally, I felt deeply fatigued yesterday. By late afternoon I was wrecked, completely out of gas. Not sure if this was directly related to less sugar or if it was simply a result of a poor night’s sleep combined with a challenging day at school. We’ll see how today goes.