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Klinger: Island Music

06/16/10 5:55PM By Amy Klinger
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(HOST) What music could you NOT live without? Writer and marketing consultant Amy Klinger has been pondering that question and offers an unexpected choice in today's commentary.

(KLINGER) My friend Glenn and I recently embarked on a quest to identify our "Desert Island Discs" - that is, if we somehow found ourselves miraculously washed up on an uninhabited island carrying a stash of our most treasured music recordings, and that island was somehow equipped with a stereo, these 20 recordings would keep us happy until we eventually died from scurvy.

It’s been a more challenging assignment than I anticipated, screening out the chaff and merely likeable clutter of 30+ years of music purchases. And while recordings from The Clash, Billie Holiday and Tom Waits were obvious selections, I never expected to include an album that I had lately kept in reserve for entertaining my three-year-old in her car seat. But there it is, number nine out of twenty, An Evening with John Denver.

True, there is a nostalgia factor at work. In 1975 at the age of five, my parents hauled me and my two sisters to Madison Square Garden to see Denver at the height of his career. And the songs I memorized in junior high while learning to play guitar have stuck with me - so much so that on occasion I may be found in my car, full out singing lyrics like, "The children and the flowers are my sisters and my brothers..." without even a hint of sarcasm or eye rolling.

But I also think this particular album is one I would look to save me from the monotony of coconut croquet and seashell tiddlywinks because it so well captures the gift of energy and play between a live performer and his audience. Like a scoutmaster around a campfire, Denver shares stories, invites his audience to sing along, and laughs with them at his own jokes. All the while his fans holler, whistle and can hardly contain their adoration. It is a conversation that is both massive and intimate. And by the time he sings the final encore and his soft vibrato fades with the concert’s closing line, "I love to sing my songs to you," you know it is deeply and passionately true.

Denver was an icon of an era. With his signature granny glasses and a tendency to express his enthusiasm with a big-grinning "Far out," he was a gentle man whose love of nature was as clear and honest as the landscapes about which he sang. In a time when the last gasps of the Vietnam War, Watergate, and a major energy crisis were straining the country, Denver’s focus was on making connections to the world around us - both the natural and the human. Given our current point in history, with war in the headlines, scandals du jour, an environment in proportionally more dire straits, and a fractured and highly volatile political environment, I realize that my renewed appreciation for this album is not merely a coincidence.

So, while other recordings on my list appeal to other sensibilities - they rock or they swing, they present complex arrangements or compelling fusions - An Evening with John Denver, corny as one of his own song lyrics, is a recording that sings to my heart. And that’s the kind of company that we all need when we’re feeling a little like castaways.
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