John Denver can’t help it: He’s an earnest but exceedingly dull guy. It always came through in his soap-scrubbed music, and it’s as clear as Rocky Mountain air from his memoirs, TAKE ME HOME (Harmony, $22), cowritten with Arthur Tobier. True to form for a man of 50 who still uses the phrase ”Holy moly,” the book traces Denver’s rise as the Perry Como of folk rock, acknowledges the dip in his personal and professional life since his heyday in the mid-’70s (including two divorces) — and makes it all sound as unremarkable as a typical John Denver song.
While touring, did he cheat on his first wife, the fabled Annie of ”Annie’s Song”? Yes: ”If the bar was open [in his hotel], we’d go there and try to get lucky.” Yowsa! When did he first smoke marijuana? He doesn’t quite remember. ”I’m not sure I hadn’t smoked once in Washington during my last days with the [Chad] Mitchell Trio,” he blandly writes. Alas, no further details are forthcoming. Once in a while, Denver manages to tell an actual story — like the time, during his separation, when he visited Annie with a chainsaw and tore into some of her furniture, all because she had cut down some trees in front of their house. But most of the time Denver can’t seem to cut through the haze to give us the real facts.
In one sense, it’s noble of Denver not to stoop to the crash-and-tell anecdotes of most celebrity autobiographies. However, what eats up space instead is enough environmental sermonizing to make Al Gore blush and, for those who may possibly care in 1994, details of the birth of one of his children and Denver’s own loss of virginity (”Oh, the rapture of a girl’s body!” — double holy moly!).
Denver’s greatest performance was, in fact, his testimony in 1985 before a congressional panel looking into explicit rock lyrics, at which he — and not the overly antagonistic Frank Zappa — rationally articulated to a group of legislators (including Al Gore) why record labeling was akin to censorship. Tellingly, Denver doesn’t devote one word to that day in Take Me Home — his memory probably can’t handle the excitement. C-