Life, Death, and John Prine
October 2, 2018 1:53 PM   Subscribe

When my wife had been in labor for 16 hours, I played her John Prine’s “Everything Is Cool.” She’d begun gasping instead of breathing, climbing into the tub to gather herself. As Prine’s fingerpicking rang out from a tiny speaker, she closed her eyes and smiled. […] When my daughter died two years later, the song rang out again into the stricken silence at her service. This time, it felt like a hymn.

Pitchfork's Jayson Greene talks to John Prine about his latest album, The Tree Of Forgiveness, and discusses how he came to Prine's music.

Also, the heartbreaking official video for "Summer's End" dropped last week.

Bonus: a Rolling Stone interview from last year.
posted by Johnny Wallflower (40 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 1:54 PM on October 2, 2018 [35 favorites]

Related: "Living in the Present with John Prine" [Oxford American, Sept. '18]

We are headed for Sarasota, and between it and us stretches a very long causeway, the kind where they tell you to check your gas level before you start across. The car was only just delivered to him two days ago, and aside from a turn or two around the block, this is its first serious drive.

“Isn’t there coolant in the radiator?”

“I don’t know,” he says. “We’ll find out. When it starts smoking we’ll pull over and get a beer!”

posted by ryanshepard at 2:01 PM on October 2, 2018 [7 favorites]

Also related, from about a week ago: The SteelDrivers, John Prine & Bill Murray - "Paradise" | Live at the Opry
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 2:04 PM on October 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

I ask if it surprises him that his divorce song would be my death song, that it would speak to me so clearly of grief and grace, redemption and transfiguration. He thinks for a second, then smiles. “Well, there’s only two things,” he says. “There’s life, and there’s death. So it’s a 50/50 shot.”

Well, damn.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 2:11 PM on October 2, 2018 [13 favorites]

Thank you for the preemptive announcement there! My heart damn near dropped reading that title.
posted by drewbage1847 at 2:52 PM on October 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

In case you're like me and cannot bear to not know how the writer's daughter happened to die at 2 years old:

"My daughter, Greta, was 2 years old when she died — or rather, when she was killed. A piece of masonry fell eight stories from an improperly maintained building and struck her in the head while she sat on a bench on the Upper West Side of Manhattan with her grandmother. No single agent set it on its path: It wasn’t knocked off scaffolding by the poorly placed heel of a construction worker, or fumbled from careless hands. Negligence, coupled with a series of bureaucratic failures, led it to simply sigh loose, a piece of impersonal calamity sent to rearrange the structure and meaning of our universe."
posted by vunder at 3:00 PM on October 2, 2018 [7 favorites]

I'd been listening to Dylan since I was a teen but only learned about Prine when he bubbled up on Spotify a couple years ago. His Tiny Desk concert is great.
posted by bonobothegreat at 3:07 PM on October 2, 2018

Father forgive us for what we must do
You forgive us we'll forgive you
We'll forgive each other till we both turn blue
Then we'll whistle and go fishing in heaven

John Prine, “Fish & Whistle
posted by chavenet at 3:14 PM on October 2, 2018 [5 favorites]

Bonnie Raitt and John Prine -- Angel From Montgomery

I am an old woman named after my mother
My old man is another child that's grown old
If dreams were lightning and thunder was desire
This old house would have burnt down a long time ago

Make me an angel that flies from Montgom'ry
Make me a poster of an old rodeo
Just give me one thing that I can hold on to
To believe in this living is just a hard way to go
posted by snuffleupagus at 3:21 PM on October 2, 2018 [5 favorites]

(And live at Farm Aid '86, rough audio.)
posted by snuffleupagus at 3:27 PM on October 2, 2018

When you said you’d never heard of John Prine
Well I knew right away you weren’t worth my time
And I’m sorry to say hon before we’d begun
We were already through

Zoe Muth and The Lost High Rollers
posted by valkane at 3:52 PM on October 2, 2018 [4 favorites]


posted by rokusan at 3:53 PM on October 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

If we're doing lyrics, this one always stops me:

How the hell can a person go to work in the morning
And come home in the evening and have nothing to say?

posted by bonobothegreat at 3:55 PM on October 2, 2018 [21 favorites]

Okay. So now I have something new to listen to. Thank you, Metafilter. But I just couldn't make it more than about a third through that video. It's dusty in here and there's a pit in my parental stomach. I'll listen to the song sometime without the accompanying images.
posted by Defective_Monk at 4:28 PM on October 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Aw man, gotta get the new one.

Best wedding song ever: "In Spite of Ourselves", John Prine and Iris DeMent.
posted by notsnot at 4:53 PM on October 2, 2018 [8 favorites]

“A bowl of oatmeal tried to stare me down...
And won.”

That may be my very favorite line in popular music. (“Illegal Smile”, 1971)
posted by BitterOldPunk at 5:13 PM on October 2, 2018 [6 favorites]

This is a great piece, thanks for posting. "In Spite of Ourselves" is one of my favorite love songs, and all Prine's classics are gems, but my favorite has still got to be "Christmas in Prison", which busts my heart up every time.
posted by karayel at 5:28 PM on October 2, 2018

Holy Hell, that video.
posted by octothorpe at 5:46 PM on October 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

Thank you for the reminder and illuminating one of the rare unexplored corners of my childhood musical life. John Prine played on the car stereo on a handful of car trips when I was little -- his stuff makes for great road music -- and even then I remember thinking he was really funny ("Dear Abby") and feeling wonder at the things he was talking about which I wasn't old enough to understand yet ("Sam Stone.")
posted by gusandrews at 6:19 PM on October 2, 2018

John and Linda live in Omaha
Joe is somewhere on the road
We lost Davy in the Korean War
Still don't know what for
Doesn't matter anymore

They say that old trees just go stronger
Old rivers grow wider every day
Old people just grow lonesome
Waiting for someone to say
Hello in there, hello.

(excuse me while I blow my nose)
posted by tommyD at 6:38 PM on October 2, 2018 [7 favorites]

There were spaces between Donald and whatever he said
Strangers had forced him to live in his head

"Donald and Lydia"
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 7:01 PM on October 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

I was introduced to John Prine when my much-older brother brought home that amazing first album circa 1973. I was a pre-teen. I have listened to the album countless times, certainly hundreds of times.

So if you're walking down the street sometime
And spot some hollow ancient eyes
Please don't just pass 'em by and stare
As if you didn't care, say, "Hello in there, hello"

This stanza is the one that struck me hardest. Now I work in geriatrics--go figure.
posted by neuron at 10:47 PM on October 2, 2018 [5 favorites]

I'm sure I've written this before here, but he is simply America's Greatest Songwriter.

Ever. Period. The end.

I'm privileged to work in primary care medicine and I'm also a musician and songwriter. (I'm pretty good at the former and pretty mediocre at the latter.) My day job affords me intimate glimpses into people's lives right at their most critical moments. Their first child's birth, the death of a parent, their first love, their marriage, their divorce, when they realize they are not in control of their substance use, when they're overwhelmed by the rat race, when they decide to opt out of the rat race, when they're facing their own mortality, when they realize they are truly on their own and have nowhere to turn, when they realize they are absolutely not alone and are grateful for the people around them. These moments are powerful beyond words for me and yet I always find that John Prine has a song that somehow puts these moments into words and music that perfectly express the spiritual significance that we go through while managing to not be corny or sentimental.

I think he is an enlightened being, an American bodhisattva in 2018.

If there is anything good left in this world, John Prine will survive long enough for the next democratically elected president of the United States to declare him the Poet Laureate and sing at the next inauguration.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 12:24 AM on October 3, 2018 [11 favorites]

I'll go and see him anytime I'm within reach of where he's playing... saw him in Newark last year, and at the Cambridge Folk Festival earlier in the summer.

One of the true greats, and as others have remarked, a man with a gift for putting the extraordinary ordinariness of life into words and music. So many incredible songs, all appearing far, far simpler than they are.

I never got to see Steve Goodman, but I'll see JP whenever I can.
posted by 43rdAnd9th at 5:26 AM on October 3, 2018

That Oxford American profile by Tom Piazza, linked above, is really great.
posted by neroli at 5:44 AM on October 3, 2018

I’m not crying - YOU’RE crying!
posted by Billiken at 5:58 AM on October 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

I got about 30 seconds into the "Summer's End" video, just about to where the kid starts looking through the pictures, and hoo boy. I'm out. I can't watch it at work. I feel my throat tightening and my eyes stinging already


Thanks for this post, though. I'm going to queue up The Tree of Forgiveness on Spotify and make it today's playlist.
posted by alleycat01 at 6:41 AM on October 3, 2018

I was familiar with some of Prine's work in the 70s, but I didn't fall in love with him until I saw the Live from Sessions at West 54th show. Fantastic performance, with a great appearance by Iris Dement.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 8:06 AM on October 3, 2018

posted by Johnny Wallflower at 8:09 AM on October 3, 2018 [3 favorites]

That video is not just heartbreaking. It is heartbreaking I haven't made it past 1:51 yet because I'm sitting at my desk trying not to cry.

Saw John Prine at Radio City this summer and I will see him every time he comes within 100 miles of me, because now every time might be the last.

But shit. That video. You can guess what's going to happen and then it becomes really clear that it already has and. Oh man. Grab some tissues or a hanky.
posted by bilabial at 8:56 AM on October 3, 2018

Oh. I didn't see anyone here comment that this video is dedicated to Max Barry, son of former Nashville Mayor, Megan Barry. John Prine sang "Souvenirs" at Max's celebration.

Max was 22 when he died.
posted by bilabial at 9:05 AM on October 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

John Prine on Freegalmusic, if your local library subscribes.
posted by nicebookrack at 9:12 AM on October 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

Yeah, one of the things I've loved about John Prine since a semi-reformed hippie introduced me to his music nearly 25 years ago now is that he has a song for almost everything.

I'm pretty sure "Your Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore" is what kept me from giving up during parts of the 00s.
posted by wierdo at 12:39 PM on October 3, 2018 [5 favorites]

When I was in college in the 80s at Penn State, there was a guitar player who did a set every Sunday night at Zenos and a played all these great songs that I later found out were John Prine songs. Every time I hear "Dear Abby" or "Illegal Smile", I think of that smokey basement bar.
posted by octothorpe at 6:38 PM on October 3, 2018

Seeing his name on the front page was a jolt and the story of the toddler's death wasn't a high point in my day but this reminded to get a ticket to his upcoming Toronto show. Thanks Johnny Wallflower.
posted by bonobothegreat at 6:40 PM on October 4, 2018

Prine is appearing on Austin City Limits this weekend. Here's "Summer's End" from that show.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 8:12 PM on October 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

There were spaces between Donald and whatever he said
Strangers had forced him to live in his head

"Donald and Lydia"

Dreamin' just comes natural
Like the first breath from a baby
Like sunshine feeding daisies
Like the love hidden deep in your heart

Seriously, without irony or humor here, it's the best song about masturbation ever, completely beautiful without any hint of vulgarity.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 1:38 AM on October 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

KLRU has posted the full episode of Prine's Austin City Limits show.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 5:01 PM on October 14, 2018

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