On April 7, 2020, John Prine passed away. He was a witty yet serious songwriter. He could write songs that would make you laugh and cry at the same time. I wanted to try and put down into words what this man's music meant to me. Hopefully along the way a new generation of John Prine fans will emerge.
John Prine has written a collection of well known songs in his lifetime such as "Illegal Smile", "Paradise", "Sam Stone", and "Angel from Montgomery." He also had a Billboard #1 with George Strait's version of "I Just Want to Dance with You", and co-wrote "You Never Even Called Me by My Name", which was made famous by David Allan Coe.
His life, as he described it, was pretty typical for the times. He grew up in Maywood, IL a suburb of Chicago. His father was a Tool-Die Maker and his mother was a Homemaker. He always said that he learned five chords on the guitar and started his music career. This man wrote songs that if you heard them once and really listened, you would be captivated by the stories. He could invoke humor, anger, sadness, fear, and so many other emotions just from musical storytelling, and has been called the "Mark Twain of Songwriting." John Prine is one of the few to be called a songwriter's songwriter and he meant a great deal to me, as he did many others.
I was in college at Oklahoma State University when I first heard John Prine. I couldn't believe that I had managed to make it to 20 years old and not know about this man. I was a guitar player and had written a few songs, so it seemed strange that John Prine had somehow slipped through my life without me noticing.I had always prided myself on having a good knowledge of country music, but never knew that John Prine had written quite a few songs that I had heard. The first Prine song that graced my ears was "Illegal Smile" and I thought that was the most hilarious song, but was still able to empathize with the character because of the imagery. He said he wrote it about being judged for walking around with a smile and laughing all the time. He was the first songwriter I had heard use words in country music that you didn't hear everyday. He talked about uncomfortable things like morality, mortality and rebelling against the status quo. It was like nothing I had ever heard. If you haven't heard this song please take a moment to listen to it.
So... That being my introduction to John Prine, I thought that he was a pretty cool dude and I had to learn more. I studied his lyrics and phrasing to the point of obsession. The man had a way of taking everyday life and making it sound poetic. He wrote about situations that everyone could relate to on a basic level. It was all about the human element and it was AWESOME!
This next song "Far from Me" is one of my favorites. The imagery is amazing. "Ain't it funny how an old broken bottle looks just like a diamond ring" is just one example. You can envision every single detail of this story.
After hearing songs that are written on this level, one could imagine how hard it would be to listen to just any music that is thrown out over the airwaves. I can safely say that from the moment I was introduced to John Prine, my life was changed. I felt like he tapped into the ability to tell a story and paint a vivid picture in just a few minutes. They are like short movies playing in your mind.
I am going to post a few more videos here of other songs that he wrote that I have found very influential.
I hope everyone will give them a listen. They are truly amazing songs!
This song "Six o'clock News is a bit of a tearjerker, but beautifully written. Supposedly it was inspired by a childhood friend of his.
This song has a beautiful melody. It also seems very relevant at this time. I imagine everyone would like to take a walk.
This next song "That's the Way that the World Goes 'Round", reminds us that things aren't as bad as we sometimes make them out to be.
And finally I would like to leave everyone with a happy upbeat song of his that I have found to be sound advice.
"Blow up your TV, throw away your papers, head to the country, build you a home."
Here is "Spanish Pipedream" from which these lyrics were borrowed.
Thank you Mr. Prine for all of your contributions to this "Big Ol' Goofy World".