September 25, 2015 –Today would have been Lynn Anderson’s sixty-eighth birthday.
She died (ironically on my son Leo’s thirty-ninth birthday) on July 30 of this year.
I first heard Rose Garden in Amsterdam!
Although it was released in December 1970 I first heard I Never Promised You a Rose Garden as I was walking along a canal in Amsterdam where I vacationed for a few days on my way home from studying in Israel in June 1971. Ms. Anderson was performing it on a TV screen that I saw by accident though the window of a bar that I passed. The song has never let me go, and when I learned of Ms Anderson’s death at such a relatively young age I wanted to learn more about her.
Like many casual music fans, I thought of Ms Anderson as a “one hit wonder.” WRONG! She had eleven number one country hits and many other songs that charted.
I thought she was strikingly pretty, but (as Michael Learned playing Olivia Walton once described her TV daughter Mary Ellen) “just this side of beautiful.” Her slightly less than perfect features made her all the more appealing to me.
I Googled her and learned that in addition to her singing, Ms Anderson was an expert horsewoman with several national championships to her credit.
I also watched as many YouTube Lynn Anderson performance videos as I could find dating from her days as the ingénue featured singer in the late 60’s on the Lawrence Welk show.
She had an amazing voice, clearly loved performing and really knew how to work a crowd. Her humanity shines though the tapes.
How she (or anyone else) could memorize the incredibly complex lyrics of “I’ve Been Everywhere Man” boggles my mind. My favorite performance though, was a relatively recent live rendition of the Johnny Ray classic, “Cry!”
Now I am old enough to remember and revere Johnny Ray’s voice, and I was skeptical about anyone else singing his great song. But Anderson’s version is worthy of the original, and I love the fact that she acknowledged it is Johnny Ray’s song in an interview and pays tribute to him.
In the video Ms Anderson crosses her fingers as she is about to come to the vocally challenging dramatic climax of the song. Then, after she absolutely nails it, she sort of wipes her brow in relief. What an endearing human touch!
Physically, the willowy blond beauty that I first saw in Amsterdam thickened over the years. Still, it shocked me to see the puffed up, face of an old lady in the mug shot published after her third DUI arrest in Nashville on a street not two minutes from the house where our family lived for eleven years.
Now, Lynn Anderson is not the first celebrity to have issues with alcohol, and I admire the way she took responsibility for her actions, apologized and pledged to do whatever is necessary to atone and recover.
I am sorry that her fatal heart attack on July 30 robbed her of that chance.
For all her hits and enduring popularity as a performer, Rose Garden will always be Lynn Anderson’s enduring legacy. Yes, some called it kitschy, but I find the lyrics brilliant, and I–like so many others—continue to love the song. Ms Anderson was ever grateful for what it did for her career.
Speaking about it in a 1987 interview she said: “It was popular because it touched on emotions. I believe that Rose Garden was released at just the right time. People were trying to recover from the Vietnam years. The message in the song—that if you just take hold of life and go ahead, you can make something out of nothing—people just took to that.”
Admittedly, I have thought much more about Lynn Anderson since learning of her death than I ever did while she was alive. I will play her videos often, and she will continue to inspire me.
She took hold of life, went ahead and made something out of nothing. I take to that.