Woke up this morning and John Prine was gone. Somebody said “I never met him but I feel like I lost an old friend”. Yes. That’s exactly how I feel as well. I first heard his music from somebody else in the early 1970’s. Bette Midler on her Live At Last album performed one of the most haunting, beautiful, and saddest songs I had ever heard. It was “Hello In There” by John Prine. I immediately went to the record store, probably Karma Records at the time, and bought his self-titled album from 1971 which had that song on it. I was then blown away by all the other songs on there too such as “Sam Stone”, “Illegal Smile”, “Angel From Montgomery”, and of course “Paradise”. Wanting to know more about John Prine led me down a rabbit hole to discovering his good friend Steve Goodman (City of New Orleans), Bonnie Raitt, Tom Waits, and many others. They all became constants in rotation on my turntable and cassette deck and still are constants to this day.
Many songwriters lose their relevance and/or popularity over time, especially after they peak. But John Prine never did. Even his last full album, 2018’s Tree of Forgiveness, is full of gems with that sparkle that was always in that man’s eye. “Summer’s End”, “Lonesome Friends of Science”, “Egg & Daughter Nite”, “Knockin’ On Your Screen Door” are all sure to be classics just like his earlier works. He never lost his knack or turn of phrase that could inspire you to laugh or cry in complete awe and delight. He never became irrelevant or produced an album where you were like “Jeez, please go back to doing what you do best–please!” Artists have a right to change and evolve and experiment as they should. But I have to admit, I’m really glad and grateful that John Prine never lost or gave up what made him so damn special and I think that’s because he was always just being himself. He simply put his thoughts and observations into song exactly as he thought and observed things. It kept him real and it kept his stories and songs vivid and true for all time.
John Prine’s songs will always remain relevant as long as the human race continues because he wrote about the human experience like no other with piercing humor, profound sadness, and deep wisdom, and of course unforgettable refrains – “To believe in this livin’ is just a hard way to go…” Rest in Peace John Prine. See you on that tilt-a-whirl in heaven.