JOHN DENVER by John Collis


Mother Nature's Son
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Shallow survey of the sandy-haired pop singer whose airy nature-loving ballads hid a darker life of drunkenness, emotional

turmoil, and spousal violence.

In his introduction, British music journalist Collis (Van Morrison: Inarticulate Speech of the Heart, not reviewed) confesses

that he has "always harboured some reservations" about Denver's music, and later dismisses such chart-topping hits as "Sunshine

on My Shoulders" as "irredeemably banal." Born Henry J. Deutschendorf Jr. in Roswell, New Mexico, on New Year's Eve

1943, the future pop star chafed against the severity of domestic life with his father, an Air Force pilot whose frequent postings

took his family all over the world but gave the youngster a feeling of homelessness. At the age of 13, Henry Jr. received his first

guitar (from his grandmother) and five years later left home for Los Angeles to become a folk singer. After some false starts,

he became a fixture in the folk clubs, where he changed his name and eventually joined the Chad Mitchell Trio. His "Leaving

on a Jet Plane" became a hit for Peter, Paul and Mary. He was later signed to RCA as a solo act and—thanks to a likable stage

presence, a songbook promoting nature appreciation over drugs, and several cleverly placed TV appearances—Denver became

an international star in the 1970s, while secretly indulging in drugs, booze, and violent acts (some involving chainsaws) against

his wife. After co-starring with the Muppets and George Burns in movies, Denver championed environmental issues and EST

founder Werner Erhard's ill-fated Hunger Project. He was in the midst of a comeback when he died in 1997 while flying an

experimental airplane off the California coast.

Because Collis has relied almost exclusively on published sources and has done comparatively little original research, he falls

back too heavily upon speculation about Denver's hidden personality and private demons. As a biography, this book has about

as much depth as Denver's songs. (6 photos)

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2000
ISBN: 1-84018-124-9
Page count: 190pp
Publisher: Mainstream/Trafalgar
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2000