When John Denver died in a plane crash this autumn, I felt as if I lost a brother. We had both grown up in the Southwest and attended Texas Tech (though I did not meet him until many years later). We both became macrobiotic about the same time. I attended several of John’s concerts in Boston with Alex and other macrobiotic friends, and once in Texas I cooked for John while he was on tour and speaking on world hunger.
John’s music, of course, has become an anthem for our generation. Blending folk, country, and pop, his gentle rhythms and heart-felt words hearken back to a time when people cooked their own food, cared for their surroundings, and took the time to cultivate friendships and build community.
John’s idealistic bent (he was a #3 Tree in the Nine Star Ki system of Oriental cosmology) brought him to macrobiotics. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, he gave several benefit concerts for the Kushi Institute, helping to raise money for the new campus in Becket. (We still have some of the photographs that John took, mounted on the walls in the chapel at the K.I.) In Boston, he visited the East West Foundation, East West Journal, and other macrobiotic organizations of the time, giving impromptu sing-alongs and holding court on a variety of social issues.
Behind the granny glasses and “aw shucks” demeanor existed a will of steel and tremendous dedication to bettering the planet. Long before the Cold War ended, John fostered peace and cultural exchanges with the Soviet Union, and his work in the environmental field and the campaign to end world hunger, decades before they became fashionable, qualify him as a prophet.
John was humorous, generous, and unfailingly polite. I remember a concert at Great Woods in which he introduced Michio Kushi who was in the audience and asked everyone to give him a round of applause for his contributions to human health and happiness. The Kushis served on the board of Wind star, John’s environmental foundation in Aspen, Colorado.
In Tokyo, John was a favorite of Lima Ohsawa, and into her late nineties she regularly attended his concerts and make arrangements to see him privately.
“Some days are diamonds and some days are stones.” John’s words hold special meaning for each of us. He has now gone on to the world of spirit, but his dream will continue in the music, his good works, and the vision that he inspired in those he left behind.