Where did John Prine come from? What planet, I mean, or what heavenly plane. For some years now, I have been preaching the Gospel according to John to any who might care to hear. And I know that the converted will eagerly clamour to back me up.
I am not exaggerating when I say that I have yet to find another writer, poet or lyricist (with the admitted exception of Dylan), another artist of any kind, in fact, with such a delicate and dexterous turn of phrase. John Prine's songs don't merely ache with humanity, they bleed the stuff, and they are a gift that has gone tragically unnoticed or ignored by a world obsessed with airhead glitterati and hollow fantasy. Maybe he is simply unlucky to have been born a man out of his time, or ahead of it, maybe he crash landed on the wrong planet, but the fact is that he has just too much substance for most people to bear.
Actually, John Prine, equal parts acerbic and self-deprecating, might be the ultimate folk poet, the true voice of the everyman. No pomp, no swaggering faux-intellectuality, no ego inflated to popping point. He leaves the fireworks for others, knowing perhaps that even if fireworks do reach impressive heights, the burn out far too quickly. Prine's songs don't burn out, they smoulder with an nearly untouchable majesty. In common with the likes of Merle Haggard and perhaps Gordon Lightfoot, he lays down words that sound and seem simple but which are devastating in their honesty. He watches the world, and he lives, and when something moves him just right he turns it into a song.
And what a song... I dare anyone to listen to 'Hello In There', 'Far From Me', or 'Mexican Home', or my favourite song of all time, the sublime 'Souvenirs', and not feel their soul shifting clear across their bodies; I dare them to wallow in 'Fish And Whistle' or 'Dear Abby' or 'That's The Way The World Goes Round' without cracking a smile that's all teeth and gums.
As a writer, I don't feel envious of John's ability to turn a phrase or to craft a simile. I merely drink them in and gasp in awe. And I reserve my envy for those incredibly fortunate people who have just discovered, or who are just about to discover, this massive wealth of genuinely astonishing music (music that, along with the collected writings of Dylan and Hemingway, comfortably stands alongside America's finest bodies of artistic work). My envy is well spent too, because I know that there are few experiences in life as transcendent as hearing for the very first time the harrowing and poignant 'Sam Stone', or the life-in-a-stolen-moment perfection of 'Angel From Montomery, or the eight-minute novel, 'Lake Marie', a genuine bone-fide masterpiece for our times, as good, truly, as anything ever ever written in any form.
If you only know John Prine by name, or if you have never heard of him at all, then do yourself the favour of a lifetime and educate yourself to the music industry's best kept secret. You won't regret it for a single minute, I promise. And if, with this paltry blog entry, I manage to open even one reader's mind to the beauty of John Prine then I will consider this day a very good one indeed.
For a quick leg up the ladder, check out the indispensable website, www.jpshrine.org.