Shades of Gray

DPD Emeritus: John Prine

Comments Off on DPD Emeritus: John Prine 08 April 2020

Man, just writing the title for today’s DPD made me go cold all over. I suspect just reading it may have done the same for you. 

Heavy hearts & minds here at the HQ today. If this goddam Covid Quarantine weren’t bad enough…now this. The flags at half mast and the love light is turned way down low. 

John Prine impacted me in so many ways it’s tough to even begin. His song-writing left an indelible mark on my life. His lyrics could be hysterical, biting, heartfelt, insightful – you name it. I mean just listen to the song Blue Umbrella. If that song doesn’t move you check your pulse. 

“Feelings are strange especially when they come true”. And what about “When you got hell to pay put the truth on layaway”. Damn that’s good stuff. Just scratching the surface of his brilliance but when I heard the news those two lines in particular jumped to mind. And this one too “I knew that topless lady had something up her sleeve”

I first was introduced to John Prine back in 2003 by Robert McShane by way of Chicago. He was my next door neighbor freshman year in college and was a certified berserker lunatic in all the good & bad senses of the word. During the first few weeks of school we were shooting the breeze about music and such as freshmen are wont to do and Prine’s name came up. When it was clear my roommates and I weren’t familiar McShane was incredulous. Then a wry smile crept across his face as he queued up Illegal Smile. He knew what he was about to introduce to us. Shortly thereafter he lit my roommate’s beard of fire and got kicked out of school (for a different reason). I can’t imagine Prine would have wanted a better harbinger. Chi-town baby.

Listening to “Hello in There” feels like you’re reading a novel for christ’s sake. Dense. “Jesus The Missing Years” should be included in any Western Religious Traditions class as far as I’m concerned. How do you write songs like that?

If you’re looking for something to listen to in remembrance please consider an interview Prine did on Studs Terkel’s radio show circa 1975. I’m two listens in and probably have a few more before the week is out. Bookmark it on your computer and come back to it periodically. 

More recently my wife and I enjoyed Prine’s run at the Newport Folk Festival. To this day she thinks “Angels From Montgomery” is the most beautiful song there is. I can’t bring myself to disagree with her. For my money you can’t beat John Prine on the main stage on a sunny day and, if you’re lucky, a cold beer in hand (maybe some sunscreen too). 

I’d like to say I feel pretty good, not bad and that I can’t complain but that wouldn’t be true. I’m bummed. The weary dismals have set in. Until further notice we’ll be running through the catalog and making good use of a healthy stock of materials for Handsome Johnnies. 

Sweet songs never last too long on broken radios.

- who has written 512 posts on The Shade.


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