I’ve been wanting to say a few words about the death of John Prine. It saddens me to write those words, and perhaps that’s why I’ve put off writing this post for so long. So much seems to have happened since then, but here goes.
I came late to the music of John Prine, having only been introduced to him by chance as my wife and I were just starting our relationship about twenty years ago. That’s when I found myself on my wife’s yearly family trip to Crotch Lake in Ontario, Canada. Her father has been going to Crotch Lake since the 1940s, and the cabins at the north end of the lake haven’t changed much since that time. No electricity. No water. No indoor plumbing. Rustic, sure, but more primitive than many people would enjoy on a vacation. My father-in-law spent two weeks there almost every summer for most of his life, often seeing the same people year after year.
As I stepped into this tradition with my wife’s family, I happened also upon the annual hootenanny, where “campers” shared a spaghetti dinner and afterward settled in for some guitar and singing. That’s where I first heard John Prine. Angel from Montgomery. Paradise. Those songs existed outside of my listening, but quickly found a place when I came back to civilization. They were the kind of songs to share with people, suggesting that they might appreciate John Prine, too.
It’s hard to believe, but I now have a fourteen year-old son that goes to Crotch Lake with his grandfather. He likes rap, like many of his classmates—and I still listen to John Prine’s music. In fact, at the beginning of this year, I made a concentrated effort to improve my fingerpicking on the guitar by learning a new John Prine song, Sam Stone. That was back in January.
It’s early June, today. The yellow forsythia in Northeast Pennsylvania has come and gone. And John Prine is dead. It’s still hard to believe. It still saddens me.
On the night following his death, my daughter, herself a budding guitarist, and I posted a tribute on Facebook. After playing several songs like Souvenirs, Storm Windows, and Paradise, we settled in on Spanish Pipedream. We played through it a few times while my wife recorded our efforts and then posted the results. We were heartbroken, but the songs left behind by John made things a little easier. And I’m happy to say that I’ve almost mastered Sam Stone, and I’m working on others such as That’s the Way the World Goes Round.
My son has even turned into a fan of John Prine. I’ve heard music coming from his bedroom, from the basement, from his earbuds—lots of Prine tunes—in fact, that’s all he was listening to for a while. He even picked up my guitar for a couple of weeks, learning to play some beginner chords. He hasn’t played for a while, but the guitar is still in his room, leaning there with his fishing gear while he contemplates another trip to Crotch Lake. Perhaps, he will be able to get there, despite the situation we find ourselves in at this moment.
One thing’s sure, though, as I write these words. He’s gained a new appreciation for John Prine’s music. His favorite song right now is probably Please Don’t Bury Me. I love it, too. It’s a great song. In the refrain, Prine sings again and again, “Please don’t bury me down in the cold, cold ground. No, I’d rather have them cut me up and pass me all around. Throw my brain in a hurricane and the blind can have my eyes and the deaf can take both my ears if they don’t mind the sight.” And that’s what we’re doing, in a sense, right? We’re keeping old John from the cold, cold ground. We’re keeping him alive with every song and passing him all around.