I was watching this odd little show on BTV the other night. BTV like most government departments is cash strapped. My thought is that somewhere, I'm not sure where, there is a pool of free programmes for television stations to use as they like to fill in gaps in the programming schedule. BTV is dipping into the pool so often their arms are perpetually wet. They're usually born again Christian things or profiles about rich people and all the crap they've managed to pile up. Lately there's been this funny little show about guitar players. Not people you really know just people who adore music made by guitars, people who know every single possible thing a person could know about guitars. I'm always fascinated by people with such tunnel-visioned passion, in awe really since I'm a generalist by nature, so I like this programme quite a lot.
So the other night I was watching the guitar show and a man there mentioned John Prine. I never thought I'd hear John Prine mentioned on BTV but there you have it. Since my last John Prine cassette got eaten by the car radio from hell, I haven't listened to his music for some time, though I sing it sometimes alone in the car, the one without a radio. The mention of John Prine opened the flood gates and my mind was awash with John Prine memories.
For me John Prine embodies the summers of my adolescence. John Prine means Summerfest in Milwaukee on the shores of windy Lake Michigan. Sunny days when I could wear shorts and halter tops and look like the sexy teenager I was. It means drinking beer when you're under age and making out with your boyfriend who is "older" which means you are dangerous and wild. It was the time when life was so full of potential your paths seem endless and time was infinite.
I don't know how many times I watched John Prine on a stage at Summerfest, just him and his acoustic guitar playing songs so loving they made you cry and so sad they'd hang around your neck for days and so funny you'd still be pissing your pants laughing days later. He was such a humble and sincere performer. I loved him from the first time I saw him on stage before I really listened to his lyrics; for lyrics are where John Prine's magic lives.
One of his saddest songs and most well known is Sam Stone which is likely just as relevant now with all the Iraq veterans going home.
Sam Stone was alone when he popped his last balloon
Climbing walls while sitting in a chair
Well he played his last request
As the room smelled just like death
With an overdose hovering in the air
But life had lost its fun
There was nothing to be done
But trade his house that he bought on the GI Bill
For a flag draped casket on a local heroes hill
(From Sam Stone)
About the truest love song ever written is In Spite of Ourselves, about real life love, the one with flabby guts and farts.
He ain't got laid in a month of Sundays
I caught him once and he was sniffin' my undies
He ain't too sharp but he gets things done
Drinks his beer like its oxygen
He's my baby and I'm his honey
Never gonna let him go
(From In Spite of Ourselves)
See aren't his lyrics incredible? Listen to Hello in There or Angel from Montgomery or Muhlenburg County or Sins of Memphisto or Unwed Fathers, in fact any of his songs and you will find inspiration.
Once when my sister and her husband were visiting here in Botswana from Colorado, I put a John Prine tape in the cassette player for them to listen to and my brother-in-law said, "Yeah, he's a bit like Jimmy Buffet." I've never heard such an insult! I felt like I'd been stabbed in the heart; for a moment I had to restrain myself from reaching over the seat and giving him a backhand. I liked my brother-in-law a fraction less after that.
I adore John Prine, I even wrote a novel inspired by his song Donald and Lydia, unfortunately it is one of my wallflower novels. John Prine's lyrics are so spot on, so true and right you almost believe he invented the thoughts while he's only the observer; what more can we ask from a writer?