Monday, May 26, 2014

Leaving on a Jet Plane

As I listened to a two-disc set of John Denver songs the other day, it occurred to me what a blessing the late singer-songwriter was to the travel industry. His songs were about places as much as they were about people, and many of his lyrics could be, and in some cases have been, used by tourist bureaus to lure visitors.

One of his signature songs, Take Me Home, Country Roads, begins with the words "Almost heaven, West Virginia," and the state of West Virginia has capitalized on those words for decades. The song will probably be running through my head if I visit the state, as I hope to do, in mid-summer.

Yet Denver is probably most identified with Colorado, and not just because of his name. He sang Rocky Mountain High, I Guess He'd Rather Be in Colorado ("where the sky looks like a pearl after the rain"), Aspenglow ("Aspen is a life to live, see how much there is to give") and Starwood in Aspen ("my sweet Rocky Mountain paradise").

Other John Denver songs celebrated Kansas ("Gold was just a windy Kansas wheat field. blue was the Kansas summer sky," Matthew), Montana (Wild Montana Skies), Wyoming ("Up on the hill there's a coyote singing a song of Wyoming for me," Song of Wyoming) and Alaska ("I can't wait to see the Wrangell Mountains," The Wrangell Mountain Song).

He sang songs about other countries, too, including Shanghai Breezes, Postcard from Paris ("Paris is a postcard all decked out in color chrome"), Amsterdam, African Skies and Sing Australia. The song A Country Girl in Paris may seem to be about Paris, but the line "A country girl in Paris dreaming Nashville in the rain" suggests otherwise.

Yet John Denver songs were not always the kind the tourist industry loves. Saturday Night in Toledo, Ohio includes the lines:

You ask how I know of Toledo, Ohio?
Well I spent a week there one day.
They've got entertainment to dazzle your eyes:
Go visit the bakery and watch the buns rise.

I happened to pick up a tourism brochure for Toledo earlier this month. I didn't find those lyrics anywhere within.

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