Roger Marolt: Roger This | AspenTimes.com

Roger Marolt: Roger This

Roger Marolt
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Do we really need to name the east summit of Mount Sopris after John Denver? Nothing personal, but I think the capital of Colorado and the popular cheesy omelet with diced ham and onions (mmm…) are already enough.

I think a more sincere gesture by the petition-circulating frea… admiring fans who are trying to officially accomplish this by filing a lot of paperwork with the government would be for them to change their own names to “John Denver” instead. After all, mountains will ultimately crumble but our souls will live on, and if we name our very souls “John Denver” then there will be a lot of John Denvers traveling down that country road into the ever after paradise that the first John Denver allegorically called “West Virginia” so that we all could envision something worth shooting for.

Here in Aspen we’ve already changed the name of a park for the guy. I mean this literally. What used to be the wooded and weeded bank of Rio Grande Park, where rugby players politely urinated partially out of sight of the spectators during halftime of their games, is now the John Denver Sanctuary. Yes, we really did rename a “park” a “sanctuary” for the ol’ country boy. That’s clout!

I have to believe that John Denver himself had more respect for the mountains than his well-intentioned admirers. His songs brought them (the mountains, not his admirers) to life and gave each an essence that we need to respect and nurture. If this is the case, doesn’t somebody have to stand up for the mountains’ rights? Who better than the nu… fans who live by John Denver’s words?

Mountains are certainly big and strong and very healthy, judging by their average life expectancies, but they have no voice. John Denver cared for them deeply and took it upon himself to speak on their behalf, and he did it so well that we all got to understand and know them on a deeper level. I personally feel that John Denver would be appalled that we now try to impose our will on these inspiring masses of solid rock and minerals by naming them after mere mortals, no matter how many Grammys they might have been nominated for, or even won.

Names bind, categorize, and ultimately limit whatever they hang on. If we take the time to think about John Denver and his message of love for the freedom that nature so abundantly possess and faithfully shares with each one of us if only we ask it to, it actually makes more sense to circulate a petition to ask the government to remove the names from all mountains in our state, and from all other significant natural landmarks as well.

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Aren’t we and the mountains freer when we can point to a grand peak and identify it by its nature rather than by the name it inherited from a politician long returned to dust or an expensive liberal arts college: “What do they call that mountain over there?” “The one with the delicately striated granite pattern highlighted by the sun shining through the foreboding thunderheads?” “No, come here. Look through the middle branch of that spruce just to the left of the picnic table. Here, let me move that beer bottle.” “Oh, I see. With the snowfield in the shape of Bambi’s profile?” “Yeah, that one.” “Nothing” “What?” “We don’t call it anything. It’s known by its essence.” “Oh.” “Do you want to hold hands?” “Sure.” “Sing?” “… I guess.”

We must remember that the reason we never name mountains after living people is because no living person’s name can adequately adorn such an inspirational creation of the natural world. We often forget that people don’t change much for the better after they die; so why the namesakes then? Ironically, John Denver may have been more in tune with this notion than most; either that or he was just a clever songwriter paying for the jet fuel by bamboozling us into feeling warm and fuzzy listening to America’s top 20.

John Denver legally changed his last name from Deutschendorf to Denver because: a) he found his original name awkward to say, much less spell aloud to airline ticket agents, b) he absolutely loved the city of Denver, Colorado, c) “John Aspen” would have been too obviously pretentious, d) a catchy name is worth millions in the music business, e) all of the above. The answer is: We don’t know … for sure. The point is that had he not changed his name we probably wouldn’t have bought his records, we wouldn’t have gotten to know and fall in love with him, he wouldn’t have become rich and famous, and, if none of this happened, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion.

The further point would seem to be, then, why do we want to change the name of a mountain to the changed name of a changed man? And, at this juncture I will offer a thought to those who believe that John Denver was inspired, sitting on that east peak of Mount Sopris, to write his most famous song, “Rocky Mountain High”: If he was so incredibly struck by that particular point on this huge planet and was already in the game of changing names anyway, then why didn’t he change his name to Steve Sopris?