Monday, February 4, 2008

"Whispering Jesse" revisited

Earlier today, one of John Denver's loyal fans emailed me John's explanation of his song, "Whispering Jesse", after which this blog is named:

There is a ski run at Snowmass called Whispering Jesse. I have no idea the story behind the name, but I've always loved it and wanted to write a song with that title. I also have a little girl now whose name is Jesse, and I wonder about what connection she may have with this song - although it happened long before she was born. I have a cabin in the high country, not far from Aspen. While I was there one night a few years ago, I dreamed about an old man sitting in a rocking chair on the porch of an old folks' home, looking off at the mountains in the distance and thinking of the life he had had there, the woman he had shared it with, the love that was theirs and the cabin they called home. I awoke with tears in my eyes. I lay awake for awhile, thinking about the dream, and then fell asleep. I had the same dream again, and once again awoke with tears in my eyes. This time, I got out of bed, picked up my guitar and walked outside to the lake, and in the beginning of the day wrote this song, which is perhaps my own personal favorite.
According to the fan, she found this paragraph on the Internet some time ago and saved a copy, which turned out to be a good idea because it is no longer posted there. I have done my share of searches and have never come across it before.

Back in March 2005, when I wrote "Where the name comes from", in which I told the story of my friendship with John, I guessed that the song was named after the Snowmass ski run and that John's daughter Jesse Belle was named after the song. Based on what John has to say, it looks like those were good guesses.

During one of my Internet searches, I found an excerpt from an article I believe appeared originally in an issue of the Snowmass Sun newspaper from a few years ago. It was a light-hearted attempt to explain some of the more colorful ski run names at Snowmass. The story behind Whispering Jesse went something like this:

When the ski area was being developed in the mid-1960s, one of the managers was a man named Jesse Caparrella. He had a reputation for shouting at his employees and thus became known as "Whispering" Jesse, like the tall guy whose nickname is "Shorty." So when it came time to name the newly cut ski runs, somebody--possibly somebody with a grudge--must have wanted to immortalize the nickname.

Whispering Jesse it was, and Whispering Jesse it remains. As far as I know, Mr. Caparrella still works for the Aspen Skiing Company, which oversees the Snowmass ski area, having celebrated his 50th anniversary with the company at the end of the 2005-2006 season.

I also happen to know that the cabin John mentions in his explanation is located on Warren Lake, near the top of Smuggler Mountain, a few miles east-southeast of downtown Aspen, at the end of the steep and rocky Smuggler Mountain Road. According to his assistant, Stephanie Ryan, John used the cabin frequently as a weekend getaway for family and friends. Most of that area is public land, so it would still be possible to visit the lake and try to find the cabin where the song was written.

Correction: An alert John Denver fan pointed out that I was wrong about the lake where John's cabin was located. It was Woods Lake, not Warren Lake. Woods Lake is located northeast of Ruedi Reservoir, which is due north of Aspen, off the Eagle-Thomasville Road. You can find it easily using Google Maps. I guess the ten years since John's death have clouded my memory. At least I got the "W" right.

4 comments:

Kayjen said...

Anonymous in my first comment, I have now read the information on John Denver and Whispering Jesse. It isn't quiet so romantic as I would have thought, but the song is still wonderful as was John Denver, in my opinion, and still so comforting to listen to when I want to just lay back and remember how pure life once was.

John Lichty said...

Thank you for your comments, Kayjen. The song is one of my favorites, too.

Anonymous said...

Hello! Just want to say thank you for this interesting article! =) Peace, Joy.

Anonymous said...

The original interpretation you have is correct - I have a John Denver song/lyric book where he gave the inspiration for each song, about twenty total in the book. The quote you have about the dream is lifted word for word from that songbook.