John Prine: John Prine

This post is in the theme “My Aquatic Childhood and my Father the Pirate”. Read the first.

May 26, In flight: If you’d asked me at twenty-four to name a John Prine song it would have been a struggle. His name would have reverberated, perhaps, but I couldn’t have sung to you every word of “Sam Stone” by heart. Or at least I thought not until one afternoon, in my friend Jed’s car, when a cover of “Sam Stone” came on the radio and every single one of the lyrics welled up inside me like groundwater after a flood.

This is an important part of the Thirty-Three Project for me, discovering these pockets of memory locked up in media.

Dad spent a lot of time trying to convince me that country music was not what it was in the 1990s. One time Dad asked me “Why do you listen to that crap?” (‘That crap’ being hip hop, the same as it was across most American suburbs.) And trying to connect with him on some adult level I told him it was rebellion, that I liked the rebellion of it. Well, he had a response for that: Country was rebellious! In the era of Billy Ray Cyrus I couldn’t imagine a more ridiculous statement. And then my Dad tried and tried to introduce me to music like David Allan Coe and Willie Nelson and, well, John Prine. These guys cursed, did drugs, and sang about breaking the law. Totally unlike the plastic pop radio country we had at the time.

My father, in his twenties, sort of looked like John Travolta in Urban Cowboy. And I suspect there was a part of him that really wanted to live that. He kept a pair of cowboy boots throughout his entire adult life, he looked completely at home shaded by a ratty cowboy hat. But he wasn’t knocking over liquor stores and stealing TVs. And he didn’t act out as badly as Travolta, who always seemed to me to be a bit of prissy baby in his tight Wranglers.

Of all the country albums Dad played on repeat in the background while I was growing up, this one made the list because it surprises. You no longer hear country music with lyrics like “Your flag decal won’t get you into heaven anymore. They’re already overcrowded from your dirty little war.” This album is so sweet, sometimes sad, always sincere. Also occasionally quite funny.

There’s a hole in Daddy’s arm where all the money goes. Jesus Christ died for nothing I suppose. Little pitchers have big ears, they don’t stop to count the years. Sweet songs never last too long on broken radios.

That last line can still make me tear up if caught unaware. It’s a melancholy sumbitch, this album. Totally canon-worthy. Thanks for the tip, Dad.

Buy John Prine, John Prine on the internet.

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