Like so many of us, the news of John Prine and his battle with the COVID virus hit me hard. I immediately reached for my git and, trying not to cry, stumbled through some of John’s songs still with me from way back when and for the length of a few choruses I felt a bit closer to the gifted spirit stuck on a ventilator in his Nashville hospital room, a little more akin to the man who possesses an uncanny ability to see me as I am, see us as we are and tell the truth about it. Standing in front of John Prine in our underwear with no make-up on is a risk we feel safe to take. Sometimes we are ugly and sometimes we’re ridiculous but to John Prine, our kind, tender-hearted brother, we seem to be lovable no matter what. John Prine loves us.
Not all singer-songwriters deliver the goods in this personally connected way. And that’s fine. The world needs all kinds of songwriters. But I dig the raw, direct connect. Take Joni Mitchell. She writes exquisite personal confessions that give us a unique shade of divine light on the human condition but Joni always remains the central character, and so the enlightenment we receive from Joni is through witnessing Joni’s ah-ha’s not living them ourselves. Paul Simon, another stellar songwriter, gives us epic sagas that traverse a familiar American psycho-space and though I see myself in the panorama it is a head not a gut identification, a bit more like reading the book or watching the movie then wading in the water. A John Prine song, on the other hand, is like stepping on broken glass in my bare feet. I am the flesh and blood in the disaster and I know he sees me bleeding.
I found an on-line interview in which Prine speaks about his being an observer of life from an early age. He describes himself as seeing things that other people didn’t necessarily see and how many of the things he noticed made him smile. He seems to have been born seeing life from a different angle than the rest of us. His music and lyrics rely on that ability to see himself and us and the world from that unique, sensitive slant where there’s flies in the kitchen and we can hear them buzzin’ and not a whole lot more needs to be said. He knows how it is for us and he unflinchingly acknowledges the pain of being human that is part of life’s bargain.
For over forty years, John Prine has played the miracle worker, making us, his fellow humans, mighty in our struggles and beautiful in our failures. We love him for this as shown by our gigantic outpouring of love, prayers, songs, and heartfelt wishes for his recovery shared on social media. We want him to win the battle and write one more song for us ‘cause we need his love so bad.
Get well, John Prine. God bless you. And thank you for all the love you have given us with your music. Without you, believin’ in this livin’ is a hard way to go.