It was a tough day for music fans all over the world when we heard that Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne had died because of corona and that the legendary John Prine was placed on a ventilator because of the same virus. On April 7th he passed away.
John Prine wasn’t a very known singer to the larger public. He was however a legend for the people that did know him, including his peers who placed him on the same level as Bob Dylan. In fact Dylan admired Prine a lot. My first introduction to him was about 12 years ago when someone I worked with suggested that I listened to him after we talked about Bob Dylan for a while. This was in the time of burn-your-own-CD’s so he handed me a copy of John Prine’s debut album a week later.
His music is best described as on the border of folk and country. It was the folk element that brought some protest themes to his music. There were songs about large corporations destroying the countryside (Paradise) or veterans returning from the war (Sam Stone). But mostly they were songs about life in midwestern America, heartache and pain included. Hello in There for example is about a couple growing old, and in just one sentence he managed to let us know the pain that they have gone through and that has stayed with them: “We lost Davy in the Korean War, and we still don’t know what for.” Where Dylan’s song were literary and cryptic, Prine’s songs were literary but it was very clear what the subject was.
Angel from Montgomery is often touted as his masterpiece, but for me it is Sam Stone. The song about a Vietnam vet returning home after having picked up PTSD, a wound and a drug addiction to ease the pain of that wound. His life back home now revolves around the addiction and this leads to him becoming a thief and he is estranged from his children who notice “there’s a hole in daddy’s arm, where all the money goes”. This line could very well be the most heartbreaking line ever sung. He ends up dying of an overdose and is buried as a soldier in a local cemetary. The song is a beautiful and gutwrenching. The pipe organ tones in the beginning make if feel as an eulogy, not only to Sam Stone, but to the thousands of veterans who returned home in a similar state. Prine himself told Marc Maron in 2016 that he thought this song would be topical for a few years after it was released in 1971, but that even now it is as topical as it ever was
So we raise a glass of good beer to John Prine, A Goose Island Bourbon County Stout. Prine was born in Chicago but his family was from Kentucky. Only the best for Mister Prine. You will be missed.