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Rocky Mountain High

by

John Denver



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

Denver started writing this song during the Perseid Meteor Shower which happens every August. He was camping with friends at the tree line at Williams Lake near Windstar (his foundation in Colorado) and all of a sudden there were many shooting stars and he noticed "The shadow from the starlight"... thus the line from the song. He says that while the inspiration struck quickly, it took him about 9 months to complete the song.
In Denver's autobiography, he wrote: "I remember, almost to the moment, when that song started to take shape in my head. We were working on the next album and it was to be called Mother Nature's Son, after the the Beatles song, which I'd included. It was set for release in September. In mid August, Annie and I and some friends went up to Williams Lake to watch the first Perseid meteor showers. Imagine a moonless night in the Rockies in the dead of summer and you have it. I had insisted to everybody that it was going to be a glorious display. Spectacular, in fact.

The air was kind of hazy when we started out, but by ten p.m. it had grown clear. I had my guitar with me and a fishing rod. At some point, I went off in a raft to the middle of the lake, singing my heart out. It wasn't so much that I was singing to entertain anyone back on shore, but rather I was singing for the mountains and for the sky. Either my voice gave out or I got cold, but at any rate, I came in and found that everybody had kind of drifted off to their individual campsites to catnap. We were right below the tree line, just about ten thousand feet, and we hadn't seen too much activity in the sky yet. There was a stand of trees over by the lake, and about a dozen aspens scattered around. Around midnight, I had to get up to pee and stepped out into this open spot. It was dark over by those trees, darker than in the clearing. I looked over there and could see the shadow from the starlight. There was so much light from the stars in the sky that there was a noticeable difference between the clearing and everywhere else. The shadow of the starlight blew me away. Maybe it was the state I was in. I went back and lay down next to Annie in front of our tent, thinking everybody had gone to sleep, and thinking about how in nature all things, large and small, were interwoven, when swoosh, a meteor went smoking by. And from all over the campground came the awed responses "Do you see that?" It got bigger and bigger until the tail stretched out all the way across the sky and burned itself out. Everybody was awake, and it was raining fire in the sky.

I worked on the song - and the song worked on me - for a good couple of weeks. I was working one day with Mike Taylor, an acoustic guitarist who had performed with me at the Cellar Door and had moved out to Aspen. Mike sat down and showed me this guitar lick and suddenly the whole thing came together. It was just what the piece needed. When I realized what I had - another anthem, maybe; a true expression of one's self, maybe - we changed the sequencing of the album we'd just completed, and then we changed the album title."
Some of the references in the lyrics:
"He was born in the summer of his 27th year" - John was 27 that summer.
"Coming home to a place he'd never been before" - He and Annie had just made Aspen home.
"And he lost a friend but kept his memory" - A good friend from Minnesota had come to visit and was killed riding John's motorcycle.
"Why they try to tear the mountains down to bring in a couple more" - This referred to the debate at that time about bringing the Olympics to Colorado. (thanks to Mary and Pam at john-denver.org)
John Denver
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Comments (20):

The line "I know he'd be a poorer man if he
never saw an eagle fly" is genius and relates to John so well.
- Sudip, Salem, India
A rebuttal to my post about the line "Friends around the campfire and everybody's high" stating a drug reference, John Denver may have also referred to the area's altitude.
- Howard, St. Louis Park, MN
I wish he'd expanded on the line "...more people, more scars upon the land" and done a song devoted entirely to that. Population growth remains the biggest threat to a wilderness ethic. Most remaining true wilderness is in mountainous areas because it's harder to build on steep land, but many mountain zones are already overcrowded, with deteriorating air and water quality. Tourism (or being an artist, like J.D.) is often the only way to make a living up there. The human race invariably ruins what it claims to revere in the name of "economic growth" aka overpopulation. No other species uses land so intensively and gives little back.
- Jim, Pleasant Hill, CA
Follow up aftet reading posts ... "High" may refer to only something so basic as feeling good about life. I haven't smoked pot in 32 years but I do enjoy the "high" I get about being around friends.
- dalan, notacityyet, MT
Always thouht (growing up in the late 60s and early 70s) this was a song about a soldier coming home from war and searching for peace for his soul.
- dalan, notacityyet, MT
John smoked pot, he smoked hash, and he experimented with acid. It was the 70's people, and it was Aspen, Colorado; get over it. Snow wasn't the only white powder flying around in Aspen back then. Let's not forget the line from 'Poems Prayers & Promises', "while all my friends, and my old lady sit and pass the pipe around" (which have been hypocritically altered from the original lyrics engraved on the stone in the JD sanctuary in Aspen). They weren't blowing bubbles in that pipe. If JD were here today, he'd most likely be an advocate for marijuana legalization. I'm guessing the inspiration for a LOT of his songs came from being high, one way or another. Good for him
- Rob, Seattle, WA
This song so inspired me to embrace the beauty of God's creation. I wanted to go camping a lot and smell the pines. Carolina in the Pines has the same effect. Both songs are so romantic and inspiring!
- Kathy, New Orleans, LA
Even though I didn't like the line "Friends around the campfire and everybody's high" since I felt he was referring to drugs, Rocky Mountain High is one of my favorite John Denver songs. It paints a picture of the beautiful mountain scenery and the song is so naturalistic.

Even better, Denver wrote the song from a personal experience, in part about he and his wife Annie moving to Aspen and enjoying the beauty of the Rockies. As a writer myself, I feel that personal experiences are the best things to write about.

In 2007, Rocky Mountain High was voted by state government as an official state song.
- Howard, St. Louis Park, MN
John was right about the effects the Winter Olympics would have had on his beautiful Colorado mountains. The ski jump built near Wolf Creek (formely Park West) for the Salt Lake City 2002 Winter Olympics put a horrible scar in the mountain side. I heard two of John's concerts below that mountain a few years prior. I now live in Denver, but when I go home and see that ski jump I always think of the line in Rocky Mountain High, "Why they try to tear the mountains down to bring in a couple more more people, more scars upon the land."
- Chris, Salt Lake City, UT, UT
Although I was already leaning that way, this song definitely helped me take up hiking in the mountains as a pasttime. It came out when I was a senior in high school. This is one of those songs that is such a complete package. The lyrics and the melody complement each other perfectly to portray the thoughts and feelings of the artist.
- Guy, Woodinville, WA
After graduating high school in Iowa in 1972, in early August myself, John, and Larry decided to go to Colorado for a few weeks camping and consuming 5% Coors beer. We were there a couple of weeks and on August 11, after shopping in Aspen, were camped somewhere near Aspen-Snowmass in a rustic campground in an aspen grove near a lake. That evening we were talking to some college students from UC-Berkeley who told us we needed to look up at about 3am. We had no idea what they were talking about but did look up that night to see the same Perseid shower that John Denver saw...from somewhere in the same vicinity. It truly was as if fireworks were shooting all over the sky, which was of course totally black at 10,000ft before light polution became a problem in the US. Although exact circumstances are of course totally different (our friend Larry died in Sept 72 back in Iowa), the word-memories of this song are somehow very personal.
- Ron, Farmington, IA
Watching TV shortly after John crashed , his companion said his last words were "I'm going to buzz Clint Eastwoods house"
- KD, Crosby, MN
As a Christian and a Colorado native, growing up in the 70's I have to say that John had a huge influence on me. His songs were the only songs I ever learned on the guitar. Now when I listen to his music it reminds me of what all we've lost here in Colorado. Ironically, it was John Denver's ballets about "too many people" and "tearing the mountains down" that inspired a gazillion people to move here. Hopefully now that his music is becoming popular again it will inspire people to embrace what it means to be a Coloradan. And yes we Christians have done way too much bashing of things we don't understand. Although I seem to remember in the 80's everyone was kinda down on John Denver. Hey man, climb a mountain, get high.
- Chris, Colorado Springs, CO
Years ago John Denver sang a song or two on the daytime Merv Griffin show. He sang acapella with a spanish guitar sitting at the edge of the stage, close to the audience. He didn't miss a note!
- robert, san francisco, CA
john denver didnt have a PROBLEM with pot, but he did use it, after a concert in `71 he was invited to a governors mansion in MN, my grandpa was pretty big with politics and was there, and they smoked pot together.
- Lilli, virginia, MN
this song is use in must of the death seen in the movie Final Destination.
- neil, middlesbrough
i love this song. ive been to the rockies and this song brings all the memories back clear as day
- Maggie, waynesville, OH
Ken,

I would point out the last line of the song: "Friends around the campfire, and everybody's high".

I always envisioned John as being a true "nature boy" and I doubt that he had a problem with smoking pot.
- Rob, Albuquerque, NM
If you've been to the Rockies, you know what he is singing about. And meteor showers are awesome.
- Mark, Medicine Hat
I once remember reading that some Christian group claimed that the song was about Cocaine use.

They took the "High" as the snow on top of a mountain that was white meaning cocaine. When John heard this he just shook his head and explained that it was just his own personal feeling that he gets when he was outdoors in the mountains.

This was back in the late 70's/early 80's when all these Christian groups had nothing better to do than attack popular music.
- Ken, Yorkton, Canada
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