The coronavirus killed John Prine. Damn. I know, it’s taken hundreds of other good souls as well. Damn. Stuck here at home with a beef about John Prine: Dammit another one bites the dust. I’m also stuck with snippets from his songs that will forever haunt me. My friend Howard and I often engage in entire conversations just using phrases from his songs—well, and a few from Dylan and Lyle Lovett, too. Here are a few that are rattling around in my brain.
I don’t know what kind of funeral he wanted, but his song Please Don’t Bury Me gives a clue:
Please don’t bury me down in that cold cold ground
I’d rather have them cut me up and pass me all around
Throw my brain in a hurricane and the blind can have my eyes
The deaf can take both my ears if they don’t mind the size
Well, I don’t think his family is going to cut him up and pass him all around. Here, have some Prine Beef. Yuck. But while we don’t have his body, we do have his soul—he left us with some great lyrics. Come to think about it, all our generation’s songwriter poets are either dead or getting up there: Kris Kristofferson, Bob Dylan, Jerry Jeff Walker, Townes VanZant to name a few. Before long we’ll all be dust in the wind.
The Canyon Clan used to fantasize about inviting our favorite songwriters on one of our backpack or boat trips: John Prine, Bonnie Raitt, and Bob Dylan. Well, maybe not Bob. He’d be a pain in the ass. Anyway, it ain’t gonna happen. So much for dreams.
Me and Loretta don’t talk much more
She sits and stares through the backdoor screen
And all the news just repeats itself
Like some forgotten dream that we’ve both seen
Like all good songwriters Prine spent time reflecting on unrequited love. I don’t know where he comes up with this stuff, but it is genius.
Will you still see me tomorrow?
No I got too much to do
Well a question ain’t really a question
If you know the answer too
We used to laugh together
And dance to any old song
Now she still laughs with me
But she waits just a second too long
And the sky is black and still now
On the hill where the angels sing
Ain’t if funny how an old broken bottle
Looks just like a diamond ring?
But it’s far far from me.
His work was often laced with wry humor:
Dear Abby, dear Abby
I never thought
Me and my girlfriend would ever get caught
We were sittin’ in the back seat
Just shootin’ the breeze
With her hair up in curlers
And her pants to her knees
Signed, just married
He had wisdom beyond his years:
You know that old trees just grow stronger
Old rivers grow wilder every day
Old people just grow lonesome
Waiting for someone to say
Hello in there, hello
I think the first time I ever heard a Prine song was around a campfire in the Grand Canyon. From Paradise:
Sometimes we’d travel right down the Green River
To an abandoned old prison by Avery’s Mill
Where the air smelled like snakes, we’d shoot with our pistols
But empty pop bottles was all that we’d kill
In his latest work, The Tree of Forgiveness, he outlines what he’ll do when he gets to heaven. He’ll get a cocktail, a little vodka and ginger ale, smoke a cigarette that’s nine miles long. He’ll kiss that pretty girl on the tilt a whirl, cause this old man is goin’ to town. I can see him living it up in heaven now.
I think he had an earlier premonition about the afterlife. Again, from Paradise:
When I die let my ashes flow down the Green River
Let my soul flow on up to the Rochester dam
I’ll be halfway to heaven with paradise waitin’
Just five miles away from wherever I am
Rest in peace, John. Be with the Angel from Montgomery.