John Prine and the Music of My Youth

I am sure that most of you have not even heard of John Prine.  Okay, that is not true.  91.4% of the people reading this are family members and they have definitely heard of him.  He is a folk singer and probably my dad’s favorite musician of all time.

When I was a kid we would travel to our camp up in Kettle Creek.  My dad’s truck did not have a CD player, just a radio.  At one point in the trip, there were no radio stations that would come in.  My dad and I decided to start singing John Prine songs.  I have no clue why this became the thing to do.  Maybe these were the only songs he could remember off the top of his head.

We bought him a CD player for his birthday (or maybe it was for Christmas).  You know, one of those presents where my mom and us bought it, most likely with his money.  As a grown up, I can appreciate the silliness of those moments.  He could have easily bought himself one, but the idea of doing something like that never occurred to him.

Fortunately we were able to start listening to those Prine songs that we so horribly butchered.  We probably listened to every single John Prine song about 10,000 times.  I used to know every word of every song.  For those of you who know me, this is an amazing feat.  I am the guy who thought the lyrics to Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy” was “Riddle me Spokane.”

When I was 15, we got tickets to see him live in Virginia.  We stayed at my dad’s friend’s townhouse in Reston.  Funny thing about that, later in life I went down to help my Aunt Lori move to a townhouse in Reston.  I kept telling everyone that it looked familiar and that I was pretty sure we stayed there for the concert.  No one believed me, until I saw the guy walk out of his place.  Turns out my aunt moved almost next door to where we stayed, how weird is that?

That concert was absolutely amazing.  He played all the songs we knew and loved (granted, we knew and loved all of his songs, so did it really matter?).  At the end of the concert we stuck around and spoke with a rodie who got us backstage to meet Mr. Prine.  My dad was in heaven.  He was meeting his hero.  He asked him if he could give him a hug and John Prine said “you ain’t gonna try anything funny are ya?”  And then they hugged.

I have no idea what made me think of John Prine the other day.  One of the funny things I remembered was how I never knew what some of the songs were about.  “Sam Stone” has a line about a monkey on his back, and as a little kid I thought it was just a silly line.  Now I get what Sam’s problem actually was.  Also, the song “Illegal Smile” is not just a song about being able to have fun with your imagination…

Here are some of my other favorite John Prine songs…

Seriously, if you get a chance, listen to him.  You will not be disappointed.