John Prine: Beyond Music and into your Head.


Recently, I had the pleasure of listening to an entire John Prine album all the way through (for the first time). You'll be glad to know I came out the other end with a generous feeling- no doubt brought on by the sly humor and gentle tenderness of the songs featured on Fair and Square. There's something incredibly life-affirming about Prine's songs. Whether he is doing so purposely or not, Prine seems to propose that the answer to life challenges is to 1) acknowledge they exist, and 2) laugh about them. 

So these songs . . .what've we got? 

Prine favors simple, folk and country based arrangements. His vocal delivery is the exact opposite of Bob Dylan's: there's no intensity, but there's also no quiet resignation, either. It's midwestern matter-of-fact that'll blow your mind. 

Here are my favorite songs:
"The Glory of True Love": You can have your lunch in London, and your dinner in St. Paul, but no momentary, material desires and temporary fulfillments can hold a candle to the glory of true love.

"Crazy as Loon": Sliding around from L.A. to Nashville to NYC might make you crazy. Please be careful of those big cities. The absurdity of what you've experienced there will still be with you when you're fishin' out on a lake in the north country. At least that's what this song proposes. Of course, maybe its ok to be crazy as a loon. It means you've actually lived. 

"Long Monday" is all about missing that special someone you spent the weekend with. If Bob Dylan's "One More Weekend" is a song about Friday, this one comes out on the other end of the festivities. 

"I'm Taking a Walk" is about getting some fresh air after a series of frustrating experiences. Whereas Bob Dylan went for a walk because "not much happens here, nothing ever does" (" I and I") Prine is going on a walk to remove himself from a potentially detrimental situation by engaging in an activity he enjoys. It's like leaving the house on Thanksgiving when a political argument breaks out with an uncle. 

"Some Humans Ain't Human" is a proud anti-war song (Iraq) that could easily be for any war. 

"My Darlin' Hometown" seems to recall, almost mythically, positive childhood memories of an idealized American town. 

"The Moon is Down" contemplates the breakup of a relationship, and is more generally about how sad situations can color the dynamics of everything one sees. Of course, the moon isn't literally down. So cheer up, will ya? Here, Prine seems to propose a folksinger version of cognitive behavioral therapy, using absurdity (the moon is down) to point to reason and sanity. 

"Clay Pigeons" sounds like a Prine classic, right up there with "Hello in There". Here, it's just Prine, his midwestern matter of fact voice, and his guitar, which sounds like the perfect melodic accompaniment to his poetry.  "Start talking again", Prine sings, "when I know what to say". The character in this song is down on his luck, wandering and aimless, with his guiding principles being a) the desire for human connection, and b) the need for the right words to be said. PS: I've recently discovered that Prine didn't write this song. A man named Blaze Foley did. Sounds like a mythic name. Whoever he is, he must be a good songwriter, too. 

"I Hate It When it Happens to Me" starts off describing a man who in a fit of madness climbs up a tree, only to require rescue the local fire department. Later, the man was on the local news, no doubt embarrassing him in front of his community. "Wow" we think, "I can't believe that dude melted down. How embarrassing. Who would ever do such a thing?". Right when you, the listener, seem to be sharing a joke about this tree-climbing man with the purveyor of the story, our storyteller then flips the switch on us. "I hate when it happens to me" he says. Bingo. Instant humor. And empathy to boot. 

While climbing up a tree in a fit of rage might make you crazy as a loon, there's one thing Prine knows for sure, and that's the safe and easy living of a person like "Saftey Joe" doesn't experience the fullness of human life due to that "seatbelt around his heart". Get busy livin', I suppose. 

I almost forgot this was music. Fair and Square: I give you an A +. 






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