The man should have been named Poet Lauriate of the US years ago. I hope he can smoke in heaven. I hope he meets his parents and his brother Doug.
An Article by Jason Isbell (another great songwriter)
A few years ago, my wife, Amanda, was touring in Scandinavia with John Prine, and when they arrived in Sweden she saw him write “songwriter” on his customs form as his occupation. “When did you decide that it was OK to write ‘songwriter’ on these forms?” she asked him. “Today,” he told her. “I usually put dancer.”
John Prine was not a dancer. He was a songwriter and one of the best that ever lived, but he did love to dance. He danced around his house in Nashville with his wife, Fiona, danced in the driver’s seat of his beloved Cadillac and danced offstage every night, twirling an imaginary pocket watch. Once while performing onstage with John, I noticed him glance down past his Italian driving shoes to check the digital clock on the floor, and he saw me notice. He leaned in and whispered, “I wish we had more time.”
When John developed squamous cell cancer on his neck in 1998, his doctor told him he might never be able to sing again. John told him, “Doc, you’ve never heard me sing.” He didn’t consider himself to be much of a singer; his honest delivery had always been what mattered most. Cancer and the subsequent treatments left John with a low whisper of a singing voice, but one that, if anything, aligned even more perfectly with the hard-won wisdom of the characters he created.
John was in his early 20s when he wrote “Hello in There” from the perspective of an old man sharing an empty nest with his lonely wife. Hearing him sing the song after decades of hard living and surviving numerous illnesses brought new meaning to the lyrics, now delivered by a man who had caught up with the character he created. John always said when he grew up, he wanted to be an old person.
John was known for his ability to tell stories that related universal emotions through the lens of his gigantic imagination. He constructed what Bob Dylan called “Midwestern mind trips” from the tedium of the everyday, and he was a master at concealing the work involved.
His songs sounded like they’d been easy to write, like they’d just fallen out of his mind like magic. He was praised for his dry humor and loved for his kindness and generosity. John had the courage to write plainly about the darkest aspects of the American experience in songs like “Sam Stone,” about a drug-addicted Vietnam veteran; “Paradise,” about the devastating effects of strip mining on a Kentucky town; and “The Great Compromise,” about his disillusionment with his country. Among his peers in the legendary Nashville songwriting community of the 1980s, his songs were the gold standard.
Of all the things I love about John’s songwriting, my favorite is the way he could step so completely into someone else’s life. John had the gift and the curse of great empathy. In songs like “Hello in There” and “Angel From Montgomery,” he wrote from a perspective clearly very different from his own — an old man and a middle-aged woman — but he kept the first-person point of view. He wrote those songs and the rest of his incredible debut album while a young man working as a letter carrier in Chicago. “Angel From Montgomery” opens with the line “I am an old woman/named after my mother.”
I remember hearing his 1971 recording of this song for the first time and thinking, “No, you’re not.” Then a light bulb went off, and I realized that songwriting allows you to be anybody you want to be, so long as you get the details right. John always got the details right. If the artist’s job is to hold a mirror up to society, John had the cleanest mirror of anyone I have ever known. Sometimes it seemed like he had a window, and he would climb right through.
After John faced a second bout with cancer in 2013, it seemed as though he was playing in extra innings — but he made the most of every bit of it. When Amanda — a fiddler and one of John’s favorite people — and I went into the studio to play and sing on his final album, 2018’s “The Tree of Forgiveness,” we were amazed by the beauty of the songs he’d written after more than 50 years of writing music. John was still razor sharp and he still had a story to tell. On the subsequent tour he played to the biggest audiences he’d ever drawn. He turned 72 that year.
But John’s work wasn’t just about his own music. In 1984, he and his longtime manager Al Bunetta and Dan Einstein started the independent record label Oh Boy Records. In the mid-’80s the major labels seemed like the only game in town, but Oh Boy succeeded against the odds. It released John’s albums along with records by Kris Kristofferson, Dan Reeder and Todd Snider, and it’s still finding new talent and operating with its artists’ best interests in mind.
He was a mentor to me and to my wife, who even helped him work on his songs sometimes, in between playing pranks on him while they were on tour. John saw her as a brilliant songwriter in her own right, and if John said you were a great songwriter, you knew it was true.
And there was more to John’s life than music. John and Fiona Prine had a beautiful relationship, loving and balanced and kind. Fiona understood John better than anyone else. After Amanda and I were married, Amanda started asking all the couples we knew, “What’s the secret to staying together?” John and Fiona gave the same answer, and it was the best one we’ve heard so far: Stay vulnerable. John remained vulnerable in love and in his work. He never played it safe.
When I was a baby, my 17-year-old mother would lay me on a quilt on the floor of our trailer in Alabama and play John Prine albums on the stereo. Forty years later, my daughter would call him Uncle John as he bounced her on his knee. My wife and I would sing his songs with him in old theaters or sometimes in his living room. In the summer, we’d all eat hot dogs with our feet dangling in his swimming pool. Now he’s gone and my heart is broken.
This week, John Prine danced off this stage and onto the next one, and I like to think he’s somewhere sharing a song and a cocktail with all the friends he outlived.
Over night I included a caption technique to all of the photographs on the website. This does not mean that I have added a meaningful caption to the photos it just means that if I do, it will be displayed by the lightbox. At this time there will be lots of captions that are just a number, or similar gibberish. Over time I would expect these to be updated.
The caption is displayed when the lightbox is active. Click on a photo. See caption in bottom left.
Carol and I have completed day 12 of our self-isolation. There is nothing too difficult about self-isolation but you quickly run out of things to do. There are many ways that we could be productive but it just does not seem to make sense to plan too far ahead. Twelve days does not sound long but it seems forever.
We watch a bit of Netflix but cannot get engrossed too deeply; COVID-19 is always on our mind. After Netflix we work on a jigsaw puzzle for an hour. Then we think about food. We are well stocked up but not much fresh food. We have not seen a salad since Portugal. I make soup most days - 2 carrots, a slice of turnip, a slice of cabbage, a handful of dried mushrooms, some peas, NSA (no salt added) chicken soup stock and a handful of rotini. 90 minutes later we have a great bowl of soup. The stove does all of the work.
Once we are finished with self-isolation we will be able to go for a walk. I am looking for some local trails that we have not walked. We were defnitely spoiled by the scenery in Portugal. Everywhere we walked it was very beautiful. It is good to be home but around here there is nothing but farm land.
Day 13 and 14 to go.
I do not know why it took me so long to figure out that this period of Self-isolation and social distancing is an ideal time to start going through the old photographs in the basement, digitizing them and doing some distribution.
Here we are at 31 Princeton Terrace celebrating Bronwen's 10th birthday.
We are in the 10th day of self-isolation. By my rudimentary calculations our chances of showing symptoms during this period of sel-isolation will have shrunken to about 10% by the end of this day. We are encouraged.
Yesterday was Katie's 40th birthday and the family got together for a video conference on Zoom a slightly hardened competitor to FaceTime and Skype. The system worked pretty well and we all had a nice visit. It was a surprise for katie; we know this from Jay as Katie had been heard grumbling throughout the day about her ungrateful family that had completely forgotten her birthday, and by time the call took place she had already called it a day and gone to bed. Surprise!
Last night at 9PM we hit the end of the 7th day of Quarantine, We celebrated by having PC Blue Menu Sirloin Burgers, Crispy Potatoes and a bottle of Spanish Brut. The burgers had been donated to our freezer by Dave Taylor, the potatoes supplied by Glenn, the Brut by Mary Lauro and the rye bread and cherry tomatoes by pcexpress.ca. Quite an elegant feast don't you think? Did I mention the Grey Poupon.
Carol and I both feel good with no symptoms of the virus. According to some sources the mean incubation period for the virus is 5.2 days. This would imply that Carol and I are over the hump but need to go the entire 14 days to be 100% certain. None the less, we are taking some comfort being at Day 8.
I am changing my terminology to match that of Health Canada - we are now in Self-isolation (not Self-Quarantine). If you require a definition of the term see this website.
. . and finally in the words of Galen Weston, "Stay safe and be kind"
Today we are finishing our 5th day of self-quarantine. We are not making much headway on the puzzle - Carol prefers to spend time on Facebook and the phone with the girls or is catching up with people that she has not visited with over the past few weeks. I prefer to spend my time thinking about purchasing a small wood burning camp stove in case the hydro goes out. The one that I like is the Solo Stove Titan and it is on sale. These are brilliant little stoves.
The people in Stonecroft are becoming a bit frazzled with the coronavirus and are starting to fight about how to quarantine, which government is right, can we walk outside and how long the virus will stay active on the soles of your shoes. It is quite a sight. As a webmaster, I am supposed to moderate their posts as they fling words and accusations back and forth. I say let them fight it out until they start getting abusive with each other - Oh oh, they have gotten abusive.
If they are like Carol and I they will have lots of champagne in the downstairs fridge that has been looking for an excuse to be consumed. It has been there for some time and we cannot get out to go to the liquor store. We are parched. We come out of quarantine on March 30 at 9 PM. You can bet that one of those bottles will be cracked at that time (and we are not even fond of champagne.) If our neighbours would just get the right attitude we will get through this.
Today our order was ready from pcexpress.ca. The order had been a $220 grocery order. The bill came to $114. I had ordered chicken thighs, chicken breaks, Lethbridge pork chops, sausage and Free From ground beef. The only thing that arrived was ground beef. Zehrs have closed the meat counter, the seafood counter, and the deli. I am working on another order requesting frozen chicken. Tomorrow I will make a chilli (when you have ground beef you make chilli). I have asked Dave Taylor if he can scrounge some protein at the local NoFrills and leave it on our front porch.
We are doing well. We could spend all day in our pajamas but we don't. We shower. We have been working on a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle since Monday as part of a community puzzle challenge.
- Open the box and turn over all of the pieces.
- Post a photo of the pieces to the Stonecroft website.
- When finished post a photograph of the finished puzzle to record the time the puzzle took to complete.
Carol and I are doing a puzzle that was last assembled by Bronwen in Japan during the SARS outbreak in 2003.
We are not doing as well as some of our neighbours who have completed their second puzzle but we did choose a difficult puzzle with few geometric shapes (yes that is me whining.)
I also have been making some software changes to the VOX to make the Archives section a little more useful. It now is collapsible and expandible by year and/or month and it provides the post title as a table of contents. There is still some work required here - although functional, it is butt ugly.
Today we are having a block party (with good social-distancing) The streets are being closed as best we can and folk are talking about taking their lawn chairs out with a glass of wine and having a quick visit. These people would have all been in the orchestra on the Titanic. We will be there.
As a sidenote I have been building an order of groceries on pcexpress.ca. When the order has been picked by store personnel they will meet me in the parking lot with the cart, maintain 6 feet of distance from me, let me load my car, let me drive away and then wipe the cart down completely. The only problem so far is that the beer and wine aisle cannot be accessed.
We received an update from Bruce Cutler this morning. We had spent a couple of days with Bruce and his sister just before we left Carvoeiro. They had arrived a week ago and were looking for a nice winter vacation. Bruce can say it best:
Portugal is completely locked down. We went to Lagos yesterday. Everything is shut down. We saw maybe 10 people walking outside. The Promenade was completely vacant. I stood in the middle of the road and took a picture - no cars. Parking was a breeze. Went onto Praia da Rocha. Same issue. The beach was totally empty. It is like living in a ghost country. The Kenny’s are leaving April 1st now as are Jan an Martha. As we can not get any earlier flights with Air Transat I bit the sour apple and cancelled our flight. Was able to book a flight with TAP from Lisbon to London and Air Canada from London to Toronto. We leave at 3:00 am Monday morning.
Our friends Jamie and Marsha from Collingwood, who we visited with in Lisbon 3 weeks ago arrive home from Tenerife tomorrow. They are flying from Tenerife to Dublin and then on to Toronto.
Everybody is scrambling to get home.