No photo on this blog. It’s a tough one to write. John Prine was my hero, my inspiration, and my friend from a distance. His passing last month hit me like a freight train echoing across the Neosho headed to Welch and then on to Miami. The lonesomeness of having him be gone is a hard hole to fill.
I have no illusion that I was “friends” with JP, but his music was there as a comfort for me. There are some people that them just being in the world makes you feel better. John Prinewas one of those. As far as music goes, he’s up there with Dylan, Willie, Kris, Buddy Guy & Macca of those that are still here with us. We were fortunate to have his music.
There’s been a lot of tributes already written for John Prine, and it’s hard to want to seem like I’m piling on, but I needed to get off my chest what he meant to me over the years. His early songs were and still cause me to pause and assess the human condition. “Paradise” was the first song I really learn how to play on guitar. My older brother taught me the chords. I played on my old Harmony that I bought at Wal-Mart as a kid with lawn mowing money, but this wasn’t until I was about 22 or 23. We were sitting in my brother’s living room on Manner Park in Edmond. Somewhere, there are some tapes of us playing many songs, and this was probably on there. We jokingly called them the “Manner Park Sessions,” but the tapes are out there. I need to check a box up in my music room and see if that’s where they are.
“Sam Stone” still gives me chills. The line, “There’s a hole in Daddy’s arm, where all the money goes…Jesus Christ died for nothing, I suppose” sums up the loneliness of a child of an addict. I am not the child of an addict, but this is exactly the power John Prine’swriting had…it made you relate. Relate, in many cases, to things you’ve never even experienced. He normalized the feelings of everyday people everywhere. I could list song after song that I loved of his music: Lake Marie (which Dylan called the best song), She is my Everything, Jesus (The Missing Years), When I get to Heaven, Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore, Illegal Smile, Daddy’s Little Pumpkin, et al. The list goes on and on, and his music will live forever. All facets of his career continue to amaze me when I go listen to them.
I got the chance to meet him twice, and he was overly gracious both times. The first time was in Midwest City after a concert, and he said, “If I’d known you were a-waitin’ out here, I’da had you come inside and warm up.” He then signed some LPs for me, and even asked if I wanted Iris Dement, who was in the car with him to sign my “In Spite of Ourselves” CD (which I took him up on.).
Then, my wife and I met him after a show in Wichita, KS. He, again, was super gracious. Talked to us for a long time. My wife twisted my arm and had me give him a couple of cds of my songs, and he said, “I’ll give them a listen…but do me a favor, keep on playing and singing. Don’t give up.” That inspiration has kept me going even when times and gigs have been lean. John Prine believed in me, that still matters, and just like an experience with Charlie Louvin, it was enough.
That first show in Midwest City will always be a special one for me. We had been married only a couple of months. And, the you know what had hit the fan. We had two mortgages and ended up with one job between us. I took a traveling sales job, so we could pay the bills, and money was T-I-G-H-T. I’ve never told this story, but I will for Prine. So, anyway, I heard Prine was coming, and I scraped up the money for the tickets. I also found a coupon for us to go to Logan’s Roadhouse and share a dinner beforehand. It was one of the first date nights we’d had since we got back from our honeymoon. And, it was an electric night. John commanded the stage, like he always did. This was my wife’s first time seeing him, and she fell in love…INSTANTLY. She still talks about how nonchalantly he walked on stage, and then the music transformed him.
That’s how I can best describe John Prine and his music…transformational. He stood up for the everyman that we all are. He told the truth, even when it was hard. He never lost the twinkle and wonder in his eye. And, he helped you experience a transformational empathy that can’t be re-created. Long live John Prine’s memory!