Thursday, April 9, 2020

John Prine: Pretty Good, Not Bad: R.I.P. (1946-2020)

John Prine (1946-2020): R.I.P. The Best of the “Next” Bob Dylans The Coronavirus doesn’t discriminate: famous and infamous; known and unknown; rich and poor; actor, actress, politician; prime minister. The virus doesn’t discriminate in who it attacks, but who it kills. John Prine was a victim Tuesday. He twice survived cancer only to succumb to a microscopic virus. The surgeries left his face disfigured, but he continue publicly performing. John Prine was a Chicago mail carrier moonlighting at folk clubs on the side. He and his good friend, Steve Goodman, were discovered by Kris Kristofferson. The famous singer said: “Nobody this young can be writing so heavy. John Prine is so good we may have to break his thumbs.” The rest is history. “John Prine,” the album quickly emerged in 1971. I had read this John Prine was the next Bob Dylan. The album is incredible. Every song had “hit” written all over it, if not by John Prine, then by other singers, such as Bette Midler (Hello in There) and Bonnie Raitt (Angel From Montgomery). Seemingly everyone who was anyone in country or folk sang his songs. He won three Grammys “Best Contemporary Folk Album” for his 1971 debut album. John Prine though was not the second coming of Bob Dylan. No one can be Bob Dylan. And no one can be John Prine. Each is unique. Both are great wordsmiths. Bob Dylan had more commercial success. Both had incredible professional success. Dylan said of Prine: “Prine’s stuff is pure Proustian existentialism. Midwestern mind trips to the nth degree. And he writes beautiful songs.” High praise indeed from Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan had earlier backed up John Prine on the harmonica in an early New York performance by the young singer. John Prine was elected to the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in 2019 as well as the Nashville Hall of Fame. He was the first songwriter-singer to read and perform at the Library of Congress. My favorite song is Paradise, an environmental lament about strip mining in Paradise, Kentucky: “And daddy won’t you take me back to Muhlenberg Count, down by the Green River where Paradise lay. … Well, I’m sorry my son, but you’re too late in asking. Mister Peabody’s coal train has hauled it away.” The lyrics include: “The coal company came with the world’s largest shovel. And they tortured the timber and stripped all the land. Well, they dug for the coal till the land was forsaken. Then they wrote it all down as the progress of man.” A wonderful YouTube video has pictures of Paradise, both the scenes in the song and the strip mine. His parents were from Paradise before they moved to Chicago. Other songs are riveting; Sam Stone about (Vietnam) vets: “There’s a hole in daddy’s arm where all the money goes. Jesus died for nothin’ I suppose.” And there’s Illegal Smile: “But if you see me tonight with an illegal smile – it don’t cost very much, and it lasts a long time. Please tell the man I didn’t kill anyone – just trying to have me some fun.” The first album includes “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get Into Heaven Anymore.” “Your flag decal won’t get you in Heaven anymore. We’re already overcrowded by your dirty little war,” and “Jesus doesn’t like killing, no reason what the killing’s for.” Let us not forget Donald and Lydia: “They made love in the mountains, they made love in the streams, they made love in the valleys, they made love in their dreams. But when they were finished, there was nothing to say, ‘cause mostly they made love from ten miles away.” In Pretty Good, he sang “I got a friend in Fremont, he sells used cars you know. Well, he calls me up twice a year. Just ask me how’d it go. Pretty good, not bad, I can’t complain. But actually everything is about the same.” He headlined the inaugural Ann Arbor Folk Festival in 1976. All he asked for was transportation. He performed for free again in 1989. He headlined again in 2007 and 2018. John Prine: Pretty Good; Can’t Complain

No comments: