Sometimes on a day when I'm out-of-sorts or blue, a John Prine song will start playing on my Pandora folk station and turn my attitude, and my day, around. The man is a lyrical genius, and some of his light-hearted songs leave me smiling for hours after I've heard them, songs like "Spanish Pipedream" or "Illegal Smile" (which he says was not about smoking pot). Others of his songs leave me almost teary-eyed: "Sam Stone" and "Hello in There". That last number also tends to leave me riddled with guilt.
I heard his name mentioned in the '70's. Kris Kristofferson subtitled his song "Jesus Was a Capricorn" as "Ode to John Prine", so I'd listen to that and wonder who in the heck that was (no internet, no Google, back then). But I didn't discover him until perhaps fifteen years ago, and then I couldn't get enough. One time he was appearing in Kansas City and my daughter took me to the concert. She didn't enjoy it, I'm sure, but I enjoyed it enough for both of us. This was long after John's voice had been half-stolen by cancer, but the lyrics were pure gold.
While Cliff and I were riding the train up to the Grand Canyon, a guy dressed like a cowboy and toting a guitar came into the coach we were riding in. He mostly just clowned around. He'd sing a line or two and then crack a joke that wasn't all that funny. I wasn't paying a great deal of attention, really, until he sang part of a song and ended it with "well done, son-of-a-gun, hot dog bun, my sister's a nun..." which got my attention. I enthusiastically sat up straight and said, "John Prine!"
"Oh, you like John Prine?" the guy asked; I nodded, and said, "He makes me laugh; he makes me happy. I love John Prine!"
The guy then proceeded to strum and sing a John Prine song I was barely familiar with, but the connection had been made. You don't hear or read a lot about Mr. Prine, but when you find somebody else that loves his music, you are instantly friends.
I was thrilled this morning to find a fairly recent in-depth interview with John on Youtube. I was surprised to see how deformed his face is (from cancer), because when I saw him in person on stage he didn't seem to look that grotesque. Anyway, in the interview he comes across as such a nice, normal human being, so very humble about his huge writing talent.
If I could purchase a book of nothing but John Prine lyrics, it would be the best poetry book I've ever read.
Here's a very young John singing one of my favorite anthems.