ENGAGING John Denver in conversation, and listening to him tackle the multitude of issues near and dear to his heart, is just about as easy as kicking back and taking in his music, as many will do when he performs at Pier Six Concert Pavilion tomorrow night.
Want to talk music? Television? Politics? Environment? World hunger? The space program?
All of this comes from a self-proclaimed Air Force brat who changed his name from Henry John Deutschendorf Jr. to the name of his favorite Rocky Mountain city; gave the world "Take Me Home, Country Roads;" put the country boy spirit into the Orioles' seventh inning stretch for more than a decade; and was offered a chance to travel into space with Soviet cosmonauts.
Right now, Denver, who is 47, is busy touring and will release his 30th album, "Different Directions," in September. The album is rumored to have some new elements for the folk singer.
"It's about different relationships," he said from his home in Aspen, Colo. "But the songs have stronger edge. Actually, they are pretty close to rock 'n' roll."
His work with two organizations -- Windsong Foundation and the Hunger Project -- keep him active, and he is again at work on a Christmas Special for ABC and twin releases, "Love Songs" and "Life Songs," to go with last year's release, "Earth Songs."
"With 'Earth Songs' we went back into the studio and re-recorded the old songs," Denver said. The release is only available on compact disc or cassette through mail order by calling the National Wildlife Federation at (800) 432-6564.
"I sing differently now than I did 20 years ago, and we had a lot of fun doing songs like 'Country Roads,' 'Rocky Mountain High,' 'Sunshine on My Shoulders' and 'Calypso.' "
The hardest part of his life right now is finding time for himself and his family, Denver said, but he said he has inner peace and freedom.
"Outside of my children, the best part of my life is that I'm in a position to do anything I want to do. I'm still having concerts. I'm still making records. I'm writing songs, which are as good or better than anything I did 20 years ago. I can do TV. I have the opportunity to make films.
"I can take my life anywhere I want, and after all of these years, that's a very pleasing thought," he said.
At one time, he wanted to take it into space; he had a flight scheduled a year ago last Dec. 18 with the Soviet space program. "... my wife became pregnant and I let all of that go to be with my wife during her pregnancy and the birth of our child."
Denver doesn't know if he'll get another chance, but he said he hasn't looked back since making the decision.
"I try not to live with too many things in my life that are a source of regret," he said. "I think I did the right thing. People always ask if I'd like to try to go again, and I say I would. But I don't know if I have the energy to get the ball rolling again. I have talked to some people involved and I have a couple of situations pending that I'm going to take a very hard look at."