John Prine

John Prine: We’ve lost a great American balladeer

I will miss John Prine. Much has been written about Prine’s tremendous song writing and observations of American society since his death earlier this week due to complications of COVID-19. I’ve linked to two great articles below that describe his influence and ability better than I could.

But I would share this: Hearing his songs when I was a young made for some impactful moments. I was seven years old in 1976 when I heard a student of my dad’s singing, “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore.” The song is a devastating critique of President Richard Nixon and the Vietnam War. Although I had no comprehension of the complex message Prine was delivering, the lyrics just blew my very young mind away.

When I got older and heard Prine’s ballad about an unmoored Vietnam vet named “Sam Stone,” I better understood his genius of storytelling. He was as great an observer of American society and culture as Mark Twain was. He certainly shared Twain’s irreverent and insightful humor.

I was in my twenties when I heard his song, “Plastic Jesus” and “Let’s Talk Dirty in Hawaiian” and immediately tried to figure out Prine’s great guitar playing and chord choices. Then, my wife, Thomassen, and I fell in love with his album of duets “In Spite of Ourselves” with Iris Dement and other alt-country artists.

Well, it’s not the best tribute in the world, but here are my son and I playing Prine’s great song, “Angel From Montgomery.”

If anything, I hope a younger generation of music fans who may never have heard of John Prine put this great artist on your playlist. You will learn something about this country and its people. And you will remember his passing as one of many thousands of people who succumbed to the coronavirus.