RIP John Prine

//RIP John Prine

RIP John Prine

He’s surely in heaven now, smoking that “cigarette that’s nine miles long”. Legendary singer-songwriter John Prine, died yesterday (April 7) from coronavirus. He gave up smoking after his first bout with cancer in 1997, but he never lost a desire for it, telling Jayson Greene for the article “Life, Death and John Prine”: “If there is a heaven, and I’m going there, that’s the way I want it. I got to thinking, Where am I gonna have that cigarette? Well, in heaven. There couldn’t be any cancer there, and why would they have ‘No Smoking’ signs in heaven?”

No hit songs. No blockbuster album. Regardless, the man once labelled the “Singing Mailman” by movie critic Roger Ebert (Prine was a mailman in Chicago for five years) was revered in the music industry; his songs were covered by a wide range of artists, including Johnny Cash, Bonnie Raitt and My Morning Jacket.

In Greene’s interview, he shared with Prine a heart-wrenching story of how his song “Everything Is Cool” played a huge part in the life (labour) and death (funeral) of his baby girl. Prine had written the song in response to his divorce and Greene wondered if he was surprised that a divorce song could also be a death song for someone. “Well there’s only two things,” Prine said. “There’s life, and there’s death. So it’s a 50/50 shot.”

Life and death; a 50/50 shot. Perhaps that’s what this pandemic is forcing us all, in our remote togetherness, to come to terms with? On the “Ten Percent Happier” podcast with Dan Harris, his meditation teacher Joseph Goldstein recently pointed out this obvious fact: What causes death? Birth. Hmmm.

I was lucky enough to see John Prine live twice in 2018. He headlined the Ann Arbor Folk Fest the first of the year, then played our town – London, Ontario – at the end of the year. What a gentleman! With his top-notch band, all of them in suits, so classy. He wrote and sang simple relatable songs for everyday people living their lives. Songs that have stood the test of time. There are so very many; it’s hard to decide favourites, but I’ll pick a few so we can be soothed, and moved, by his words:

“When I woke up this morning, things were looking bad
Seems like total silence was the only friend I had” (“Illegal Smile”)

“Well, I sat there at the table and I acted real naïve
For I knew that topless lady had something up her sleeve” (“Spanish Pipedream”)

“Ya know that old trees just grow stronger
And old rivers grow wider every day
Old people just grow lonesome
Waiting for someone to say, ‘Hello in there, hello’” (“Hello In There”)

Well “There’s a hole in daddy’s arm where all the money goes,
Jesus Christ died for nothin’ I suppose.
Little pitchers have big ears,
Don’t stop to count the years,
Sweet songs never last too long on broken radios.” (“Sam Stone”)

“And daddy, won’t you take me back to Muhlenberg County
Down by the Green River where Paradise lay
Well, I’m sorry my son, but you’re too late in asking
Mister Peabody’s coal train has hauled it away” (“Paradise”)

And “There’s flies in the kitchen, I can hear ‘em there buzzin’
And I ain’t done nothin’ since I woke up today
How the hell can a person go to work in the mornin’
Come home in the evenin’ and have nothin’ to say” (“Angel From Montgomery”)

“That’s the way that the world goes ‘round
You’re up one day and the next you’re down
It’s a half an inch of water and you think you’re gonna drown
That’s the way that the world goes ‘round.” (“That’s The Way The World Goes ‘Round”)

“Father forgive us for what we must do
You forgive us and we’ll forgive you
We’ll forgive each other ‘til we both turn blue
Then we’ll whistle and go fishing in heaven (“Fish And Whistle”)

“Now my grandma was a teacher, went to school in Bowling Green
Traded in her milking cow for a Singer sewing machine
Well, she called her husband ‘Mister’, and walked real tall and proud
Used to buy me comic books after grandpa died” (“Grandpa Was A Carpenter”)

“Please don’t bury me down in that cold, cold ground
I’d rather have ‘em cut me up and pass me all around
Throw my brain in a hurricane and the blind can have my eyes
And the deaf can take both of my ears if they don’t mind the size” (“Please Don’t Bury Me”)

“I’m goin’ down to the Greyhound station, gonna get a ticket to ride
Gonna find that lady with two or three kids, and sit down by her side
Ride ‘til the sun comes up and down around me ‘bout two or three times
Feed the pigeons some clay
Turn the night into day
Start talkin’ again when I know what to say” (“Clay Pigeons”)

“When I get to heaven, I’m gonna shake God’s hand
Thank him for more blessings than one man can stand
Then I’m gonna get a guitar and start a rock ‘n’ roll band
Check into a swell hotel; ain’t the afterlife grand?” (“When I Get To Heaven”)




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