anne mikolay 2012 120If you could be a musician/performer, what artist would inspire you? Would you be another bouncing, cat-suit wearing Beyonce, or perhaps a wrecking ball straddling Miley Cyrus? Would Celine Dion or Miranda Lambert be your mentor? Would you want to do it your way, like Frank Sinatra, or sing about your hungry heart, like The Boss.?Would you perform on a stage with gyrating dancers, Madonna-style, or wear colorful costumes, like Katy Perry, and entertain with song and fireworks? Maybe you would need a million costume changes to be effective, like Jaylo and Diana Ross, or auto-tune to enhance your voice like Britney Spears. Me? I’d take the simple approach, pick up a guitar, stand on a hillside, and make a joyful noise like the late, great John Denver (1943-1997).

Go ahead. Call me corny. I can take it. And so could he. Despite frequent criticism and being called a “square,” John Denver remained true to himself. His integrity was admirable; his music, to coin the man’s trademark phrase, “far out.” Denver’s music crossed the genres: folk, pop, folk rock, country. His lyrics spoke to a lot of people, myself included. Why am I waxing nostalgic about John Denver? Because my sister just gave me a CD of one of his live performances, and as I was running errands in my car, singing along, unsuccessfully attempting harmony, I realized that Denver’s music…from Rocky Mountain High to Calypso...could be the soundtrack of my life.

I discovered John Denver way back in high school when he was just a newcomer with an odd haircut, and I was an impressionable teenager in braces. The teenage years, a time of searching and coming to know oneself, identifying one’s values and priorities, are difficult and confusing. Back then, though, I knew what I valued - still do - and John Denver sang about it all in his music. Denver had a song for my every mood, thought, and dream. And he did what I longed (and still long) to do; he lived in the country, in harmony with nature and animals, creating things of meaning and lasting value.

No. I am not a hippie. I don’t “commune” with nature or hug trees. I’ve never been to John Denver’s beloved Colorado or sailed aboard Jacques Cousteau’s Calypso. I don’t play the guitar (tried, failed), and my grandma didn’t have a feather bed. But I know the warmth of sunshine on my shoulders, the joy of talking to God and listening to His casual reply, and I’ve learned through experience that some days are diamonds and some days are stones. I navigated adolescence with John Denver. Decades later, his words/music still ring true to me. He continues to inspire me; I only hope someday, God willing, I can create something worthwhile, lasting, and leave a meaningful legacy, as Henry John Deutschendorf did.

So, let the Beyonces among you twerk away and the Mileys test the limits of propriety. I’m having none of that. This corny, old girl prefers to roll up the windows of my car, shut out the shallow nonsense, and live my life with John Denver’s music playing in the background.