Grateful Dead Europe ‘72
Some days just don’t pan out the way you hoped. In these days of sadness and foreboding of what is going to happen in the future, the last thing Americans wanted to hear was more bad news. When you consider the omnipresent and omniboring hogwash coming out of Washington daily in the form of Mad King Donald’s “press conferences”, one would think that the Fates would have mercy on mortals and let things slide for just a little while. But no.
Avoiding politics for a moment, it was with heavy heart that Fiona Prine announced earlier today that John Prine was dead. For the past three weeks or so, America has waited with bated breath in the hope that John would somehow beat the virus as he had cancer twice before. Those bouts with the big C took part of one of his lungs and a portion of his throat. Still, he was able to produce, write, and release a new album last year. The man was as one pundit called him “the Mark Twain of his era.” There are few compliments better than that a human could hope to be remembered by.
I last saw John at Red Rocks about ten years ago. I’ve always known that John was a giant among musicians, but even I was surprised by his opening act, Emmy Lou Harris. Most musicians probably never have the chance to meet a star on the level of Emmy Lou. To have her as your opening act, well, it speaks to the magnitude of the man and his influence on the music world. He was one of the great ones. One of his last high profile appearances was on Austin City Limits last year. Worn and battered, buffed up like a bull frog, he didn’t just play his new and old tunes, he attacked them, and I am sure, added millions to his already considerable fan base.
I first heard John when he put out his first album title simply John Prine. Some of his most memorable songs came from that first offering. “Sam Stone”, “Paradise”, and “Hello in There”, “Illegal Smile”, “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore”, “Donald and Lydia”, and of course, “Angel from Montgomery” would pave the way for a career that forged a path of fame and reverence for an army of dedicated fans.
I was 21 in 1971 when the album came out and about to graduate from college. My draft number was 40 with a bullet. Something about the songs on that album spoke to me like few songs ever had. As a budding hippie, “Illegal Smile” struck a chord in me on the lighter side, but “Sam Stone” spoke to me of the reality of the Vietnam War and the future that I faced. But it was “Paradise” that sealed the deal for me. I had never heard of a singer/song writer that could speak through his lyrics with such raw emotion and sorrow.
Fiona Prine sent out a message to his followers on Facebook. In part it read,
From Fiona Whelan Prine…
Our beloved John died yesterday evening at Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville TN. We have no words to describe the grief our family is experiencing at this time. John was the love of my life and adored by our sons Jody, Jack and Tommy, daughter in law Fanny, and by our grandchildren.
John contracted Covid-19 and in spite of the incredible skill and care of his medical team at Vanderbilt he could not overcome the damage this virus inflicted on his body.
I sat with John – who was deeply sedated- in the hours before he passed and will be forever grateful for that opportunity.
Unlike the lyrics to Same Stone which state, “Sam Stone was alone/When he popped his last balloon, /Climbing walls while sitting in a chair.” John Prine was never going to die alone. Millions of fans woke up today having lost a psychic connection to an old friend and sadder for the knowledge “he’s gone”.
Peace and Happy Trails John