I typically take this space to write about my walks with Olive, my blind dog, and we have been walking, though we haven’t stopped at the dog park. We walk around it these days. I have done okay adjusting. I have more than enough work to keep me busy and, when I have a minute, I bake something. Baking is therapy in my book. I feel better when I have made something that my family can eat.
This space is not devoted to walks or baking this time. I want to take a minute to pay tribute to John Prine. I am not a musician. I have played music here and there, but I would never call myself a musician. Lord knows there are many more qualified people in this town to pay tribute to him, but this is a personal tribute from a girl, a storyteller, a poet, who came to storytelling through the magic of John Prine’s lyrics.
It was through John Denver that I found John Prine. My parents had a few John Denver albums, and of all their albums, his were my favorite. I played one album in particular over and over again, Farewell Andromeda, and one song even more than that, “Angel From Montgomery.” At age six, I didn’t know what a cover was and I didn’t know that it wasn’t a John Denver’s song. I only knew that I loved it. I loved it for its sadness and its longing and its hard reality–even then, even at six years old.
At some point I realized that it was in fact a John Prine song, and when I went searching for more of his music, I found a treasure trove of stories I fell in love with.
In a Literary Evening with John Prine and Ted Kooser hosted by the Library of Congress, U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser said of John Prine, “I’ve often thought about how our guest’s songs could be seen as literary works, and have concluded that they’re very much like the short stories of the late, great Raymond Carver, stories about the most ordinary people, elevated through Carver’s work to an almost heroic status. John Prine has taken ordinary people and made monuments of them.”
Kooser also called John Prine a genuine poet of the American people, but Prine flatly denied that he wrote poetry. He said he wrote song lyrics and did his best to write great songs. Whatever we want to call them, they are gorgeous song lyrics that do exactly as Kooser said. They elevate ordinary people. They elevate everything.
My life has most certainly been elevated by John Prine’s lyrics in many ways. You could say John Prine brought my husband and me together. I first met Jay when he had returned with mutual friends from having seen John Prine and Johnny Cash play at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Jay and our mutual friends played a John Prine CD they had picked up at the festival. By then, I was already in love with his music and was excited to hear them go on about how amazing it had been to see him play live. I firmly believe it was our mutual love of John Prine’s music that led Jay and I to reconnect many years later after I had divorced my first husband.
My dream to top all dreams was to hear him play live, so I envied Jay his Telluride experience. I had come close to seeing John Prine play a couple times when I lived in Michigan, but I somehow missed out on those opportunities. Not long after we moved to Colorado, I saw he was going to be playing at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, and I told Jay we had to go. We did. I have seen quite a few great concerts in my life, but nothing compared to hearing John Prine play live at Red Rocks. I don’t think anything ever will. He was just on the other side of 70, but he was throwing down like he might still be in his twenties.
This week, we lost him, another casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic. He was much more than that, though, as all the victims of this are. He was a husband, a father, a mentor to so many great musicians, and for me, a longtime fan, it was as if I had lost an old friend. After learning of his death, I spent the evening listening to his music on vinyl and then watching the many, many videos of him playing on YouTube. If nothing else, we have his music, but there is no denying the world feels a little less whole now that he is gone. For a while, every day is going to feel like a long Monday.