“Who is John Prine?”
Our (now virtual) regular editorial meetings at Salt Lake magazine cover a lot of ground, from personal difficulties with social isolation to stats about readership, plans for new stories, and decisions about what we think readers really want to hear about. The latter we decide by gut, by reading other publications and by checking the list of “most searched” words and headings on the web that our online editor Kaitlyn Christy reads every day.
One item she mentioned today is a question everyone is asking online: “Who is John Prine?”
That people are wondering this underscores the fact that Prine is one of the most under-rated, under-hyped, in fact, under-appreciated song writers in the world and has been since (he didn’t burst, he never bursts) sliding into the scene with his self-titled album in 1971
He is also one of the greatest songwriters in the world.
He’s in the news now because he’s critically ill with a virus perhaps more famous than he is.
Let’s change that now.
A few fun facts: He was “discovered” by then Sun-Times writer Roger Ebert (you know who he is, right?) in 1970 playing in Chicago club. Ebert gave Prine two thumbs-up in a rave review.
Since the beginning, Kris Kristofferson (you know who he is, right?) has been a devotee and recorded many Prine songs.
Seems everyone (and now I’m going to stop with the links; you know how to Google, don’t you?) has recorded or performed a song by Prine: Johnny Cash (“Sam Stone”), Bette Midler (“Hello in There”), Bonnie Raitt (“Angel from Montgomery”), Zac Brown Band (“All the Best”), Miranda Lambert (“That’s the Way the World Goes Round”) and George Strait (“I Just Want to Dance with You”). He has also toured with famous names and made some names famous by inviting them to open for him: Jason Isbell, Margo Price, Sturgill Simpson.
Prine’s wry, wistful, often simple lyrics strike the “deep heart’s core,” as Yeats termed a person’s innermost vital feelings. They spring from a real American idealism stained with real-life cynicism and wrapped in love. Prine’s songs tell the real truth, the kind that leads from the personal to the universal.
This one, the unofficial song of my last marriage:
This, probably his most famous song, made so by Bonnie:
And this, which seems particularly poignant right now: