The other day, I was listening to John Denver while driving down I-24. Midway through the song “Sunshine on my Shoulders,” I noticed that I was subconsciously driving about 10 miles per hour slower than usual, and felt perfectly content doing so. It occurred to me that I had inadvertently stumbled across the best possible illustration of John’s genius. He had a rare gift for underlining the beauty of simple things, and thus drawing listeners into the world of each song. It is simply difficult to feel stressed and in a hurry while listening to a song like “Sunshine On My Shoulders,” or "Hey, It's Good to Be Back Home Again."
What's even more remarkable is his inexplicable knack for making his audience feel like he cared about them. I've often bemoaned that the public seems to be concerned primarily with shallow things: they want a show with lots of fireworks—the bigger, the louder, the faster, the better. But, in truth, people may think they want a show, but as soon as you look them in the eye and sing with sincerity, "If I had a song that I could sing for you, / I’d sing a song to make you feel this way," suddenly extravagance and virtuosity don’t seem so important anymore, and they’ll listen to you sing your sweet, simple songs for hours. Whether they realize it or not, people don't really want a show; they want love. Perhaps we seek after extravagance as a means of distracting ourselves from the pain of feeling unloved. I believe John must have understood that, even if only subconsciously, and that understanding was one big secret of his success.
The essence of John Denver's craft is embodied in lines from another song of his: "Perhaps love is like a window, perhaps an open door / It invites you to come closer, it wants to show you more.” Take a look at the video below, and note what he says by way of introduction: "I wrote this song for you; I want you to know that." Artists, regardless of their specific fields, can learn a lot from this approach.
I'm reading Dale Carnegie, and finding the principles under every rock, it seems.