John Denver: Rocky Mountain High

   I have been realizing the profundity of this Deutchendorf lyric lately, and so have added a bit to my Chapter Nine of the Rock Commentaries [Available with some effort through the menu of my website], where I attempt to list 30 candidates for the best lyric of all time, and to rank the best. I figured if I aimed at 30 that might be the best ten, my net would be cast wide enough, and then ten that might be the best one, but it is of course very hard to consider lyrics this way. This one may be much higher than 26, where I have it now, and I’m singin’ “leavin on a Jet Plane” as that new girl sings it, gorgeous sorrow!

# 26 Rocky Mountain High

Here are the lyrics copied from Songmeanings. One commentator suggests that “his” memory is an error, the lyric being “a” memory, as both are possible:

He was born in the summer of his 27th year

Coming home to a place he’d never been before

He left yesterday behind him, you might say he was born again.

You might say he found a key for every door

When he first came to the mountains his life was far away
On the road and hanging by a song
But the string’s already broken and he doesn’t really care
It keeps changing fast and it don’t last for long

But the Colorado rocky mountain high
I’ve seen it rainin’ fire in the sky
The shadow from the starlight is softer than a lullabye
Rocky mountain high (Colorado)

He climbed cathedral mountains, he saw silver clouds below
He saw everything as far as you can see
And they say that he got crazy once and he tried to touch the sun
And he lost a friend but kept his memory

Now he walks in quiet solitude the forest and the streams
Seeking grace in every step he takes
His sight has turned inside himself to try and understand
The serenity of a clear blue mountain lake

And the Colorado rocky mountain high
I’ve seen it raining fire in the sky
You can talk to God and listen to the casual reply
Rocky mountain high

Now his life is full of wonder but his heart still knows some fear
Of a simple thing he cannot comprehend
Why they try to tear the mountains down to bring in a couple more
More people, more scars upon the land

And the Colorado rocky mountain high
I’ve seen it rainin’ fire in the sky
I know he’d be a poorer man if he never saw an eagle fly
Rocky mountain high

It’s Colorado rocky mountain high
I’ve seen it rainin’ fire in the sky
Friends around the campfire and everybody’s high
Rocky mountain high
Rocky mountain high
Rocky mountain high
Rocky mountain high
Rocky mountain high
Rocky mountain high

   The things he cannot comprehend reminds me of the Eagles song “Paradise.” This probably will be ranked Higher, but I am presently under its influence, and do not want to exaggerate. The mountain is the same one, or one of those that Dylan ascended, one of the twelve in “Hard Rain,” or even the mountain, like “I have been to the mountaintop” of Martin Luther King. That is, this song is profound philosophic biography related to John Denver being one of the Great American folk singers, in a line of prophets from Woody and Bob. This “born again” is what baptism is an image of, and it is the awakening of a faculty that is the Key to every door, and begins the philosophic ascent. Jesus said, “You must be born again,” and he did not mean give your faculty of opinion or belief over to the Christians, but to be born anew, as when Mr. Deutchendorf was 27, and found the whole world new, like coming home to a place one has never been, said to refer to when he moved to Colorado. “…,or you cannot see the kingdom of heaven.” See, it is a faculty.

   He discovered Colorado when he was already a musician traveling about on the strength of one famous song. Readers note that raining fire refers to a meteor shower on a particular trip up the Rockies. But “Shadows from the starlight softer than a lulliby” Is poetry as fine as Cat Steven’s moonshadow or Bob’s “To dance beneath the diamond sky…or Shakespeare’s character Mustard Seed.” Can you see the shadows of starlight? Maybe when the sky is afire with the meteors!” I have commented in a reply on “Touch the sun,” and others too have noted Icarus, and that it is an attempt to know God. Here is a reply I wrote to the question of @roneastman on the meaning of “try and touch the sun, and another guy on the Songmeanings website gets it too:”

 Oh, my. Something private occurred to John, as the song is a philosophic biography. How did he lose his friend? “Touch the sun” is like Icarus, only worse, and the ascent, something in this, caused him to lose his friend but keep his memory. The natural ascent is rather: “He saw silver clouds below, He saw everything as far as he could see.” To see the tops of the clouds is an analogy, as in seeing the things in the heavens. To touch the sun is to try to know God in a way that we cannot, directly, like maybe Moses or Jesus do, but which is dangerous or deadly for most if not all, “face to face.” We have a prayer that the Lord stay hidden while we serve Him! He would have had to lie to himself in order to keep his friend. The ascent may involve love, and the seeing knowing something that caused him to lose his friend and lover both. One might add Pete Townshend, “I could see for miles” to John’s “saw everything as far as he could see.”

   But so raining fire too is analogous to the reign of grace. It is the line of the refrain that is repeated, while the last two lines of the refrain change throughout. This is what the song is about, then, he has seen it raining fire in the sky. Now he is not so wild in the ascent, but walks in quiet solitude, seeking grace in every step. One can talk to God and listen to the casual reply, in a life of quite wonder. Like Augustine, “Thence being admonished to return onto myself (Confessions), he is not concerned in this way with the sins of others. Turning inside himself, he sees the soul reflected, and is able to understand the serenity of a clear blue Mountain Lake. This is the pool outside the cave in Plato’s Republic: same one, just like “born again” is the ascent from the cave, after which one can see reflected in the pool the men and other things. Because he sees the soul reflected, his daily life is a casual, rather than fire-touching, conversation with God, full of wonder, though he cannot understand the Americans any better than the Eagles could in the song “Paradise,” which cannot but make us cry- to see our nation destroyed by the infinite and corrupt love of wealth and this “prosperity.” In Colorado, they built a bunch of ski lodges to bring in tourists, and they did. John would be a poorer man, rather, if he had never seen an Eagle fly, and I just saw maybe my first one the other day, about a month ago, a young bald eagle. And will Jeff Sessions ever know the joy and beauty of “Friends around the campfire / And everybody’s high?” How, without knowing the pursuit of happiness allowed in the Declaration and Constitution, and the limits of federal authority? There can be nothing so joyous in American history to break up the solitude of the forests and streams. Will he ever be so free a man as not only to know it, but write it because it is true and beautiful? Colorado was one of the first U.S. states to legalize, or recognize the legality of, smoking weed and playing guitars around a campfire with friends in the Mountains of Colorado: Our states have never delegated this power to prohibit to the national government, which violates the constitution to proscribe where it has no right no constitutional power to proscribe. The states literally never gave the federal government such power, and hence they do not have it, but that it is seized. And it is something quite a bit more than a legal quibble, if one considers the effects tickling down of such a principle. John Denver probably had to fib about the meaning of his lyrics, contrary to the Fist Amendment, and the implications stretch though the Bill of Rights Amendments like dominoes. John Denver is a free American, and by writing stuff like this, one of our great poets. One can talk to God and listen to the casual reply because the words of God are men.
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