March 14, 2007
Colorado Has Song in Its Heart, and Not Drugs on Its Mind
By KIRK JOHNSON
DENVER, March 13 — The Colorado General Assembly wants to be quite clear on this point: When the singer-songwriter John Denver praised the joys of Colorado and sang about “friends around the campfire, and everybody’s high,” in 1972, he was not referring to illicit drugs. Definitely not. Don’t even think it. The high in question, lawmakers say, is really about nature and the great outdoors — the tingly feeling you get after a nice hike, perhaps.
“A high is medically the releasing of endorphins in the brain — yes, drugs cause it, but so do lots of other things,” said State Senator Bob Hagedorn, a Democrat from the suburbs of Denver who successfully led the drive on Monday to make Mr. Denver’s anthem “Rocky Mountain High” Colorado’s second state song. The tune will have joint status with “Where the Columbines Grow,” which pretty much everyone agrees is about flowers.
“We could be talking about guys who’ve been fishing all day, or kids pigging out on s’mores, with the chocolate,” Senator Hagedorn said, referring to other endorphin-producing activities. “If I thought there was anything in that song about the use of drugs or encouraging the use of drugs, I would never have run the resolution.”
What the designation of Mr. Denver’s song as “official” might actually mean — for the song or the state — remains unclear. The history of official state objects around the country is quite mixed.
Maryland lawmakers, for example, voted in 2003 to make walking the official “state exercise,” but the measure walked only as far as the governor’s desk, where it was vetoed. And many people probably sing “Yankee Doodle” without getting a sudden urge to visit Connecticut, even though it’s the official state song there. But politicians still keep trying. The governor of New Mexico, Bill Richardson, signed a measure into law just this week making the bolo, or string tie, the state’s official neckware.
In any case, John Denver lovers and state tourism promoters say that “Rocky Mountain High” is different. The song has Colorado prominently in the chorus and it sold millions of copies. And there seems little doubt that Mr. Denver genuinely loved Colorado, too.
Born Henry John Deutschendorf Jr. in Roswell, N.M., the singer originally considered calling himself John Sommerville, according to his official Web site, Johndenver.com, before settling on Colorado’s capital city for his stage name and Aspen in the central Rockies as his home.
Mr. Denver died in October 1997 at age 53 in a plane crash, and Senator Hagedorn said the approaching 10th anniversary of the accident was part of the impetus for his resolution — to create a kind of memorial to an adopted favorite son — and also why he thinks it passed by large majorities in the House and Senate. The resolution takes effect without going to the desk of Gov. Bill Ritter.
“A lot of people probably think it’s already the state song,” said Richard Grant, a spokesman for the Denver Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau. The bureau is already planning how to use “Rocky Mountain High” in promotional materials, Mr. Grant said, adding that he also hears no drug references in the lyrics.
“It’s certainly going to appeal to a lot of young people,” Mr. Grant said. “It’s just a cool thing to take a rock song and make it the official song.”