By Tucker Deaton
“Dammit, I miss John Prine,” I heard my mother admit earlier this year as the radio hummed “Long Monday.” As with any good Christian woman from Alabama, her cuss words were saved for moments that truly deserved them. We nodded our heads and listened.
John Prine’s death last year hit our family as if he were a part of it. In many ways, he was. His music floated through my childhood home, bouncing from wall to wall, inseparably attaching itself to and shaping my fondest memories. Never again will I experience the bliss that was being a kid on our back porch during a spring afternoon. The scent of blooming honeysuckles and azaleas clung to the sticky southern air as burgers sizzled on my father’s grill. Sitting with my family, I could hear robins chirping as they hopped across the branches of red oak trees overhead, and I expected the fireflies were filled with anticipation as they prepared for their nightly appearance. My adolescent brain was unable to fathom the notion of there being anything wrong with the world. It simply didn’t seem possible. As always, John’s music was with us on these carefree afternoons, and we sang along.
And there’s a backwards old town that’s often remembered
So many times that my memories are worn
Thinking back on the days of my youth, I recall the sense that our house was filled with love. Love wasn’t just something we placed on the mantle and polished for show when the neighbors stopped in. It was more like the dust we swept up off of the floor; it found a way to cover everything. Watching my parents beam at each other as the album In Spite of Ourselves played continuously through our speakers showed me their deep connection. Their love spilled over into the lives of us kids, and John’s words helped us to appreciate the immense value of our closest relationships.
Old Faithful’s just a fountain compared to the glory of true love
What I didn’t realize, at the time, was that John Prine had a hand in raising my siblings and me. His lyrics engrained lessons into us and etched words of truth onto the earliest iterations of our personal ethos. “Safety Joe” taught us the importance of abandoning comfort and daring to live with meaning. “Dear Abbey” and “That’s the Way the World Goes Round” filled our guts with laughter while encouraging us to accept ourselves and our current situations, without dwelling on the negatives. “How Lucky” celebrated gratitude. “Hello in There” empathy. The words gave us a crucial sense of direction going forward. John confirmed our suspicion that there was good in our world and inspired us to be part of it.
Dreaming just comes natural
Like the first breath from a baby
As we grew the songs grew with us. New meanings were revealed and allowed us to better understand ourselves and those around us. It became clear that John was not only familiar with the joys of life but also no stranger to the hardships that inevitably come with time. “Far From Me” comforted us and loosened the knot in our throat when we felt our hearts break for the first time. We wept as “Mexican Home” allowed us to grieve with John when loved ones were taken from us. “Souvenirs” was our companion as the realization hit that time was not planning on slowing down for us. I’m eternally grateful that John was a guide through many of the tougher aspects of our existence. Hearing difficult words from the same voice that had been the soundtrack to our childhood days of joy made it easier to swallow and digest. John’s lack of cynicism walked us through these darker valleys while reminding us that the overall landscape around us was still beautiful when viewed from the proper perspective. His songs never shied away from the unpleasant aspects of mankind and often shined a light on some that were overlooked. However, his theme of the futility of pessimism and frustration forced us to find a better way to handle our tribulations.
For a heart stained in anger grows weak and grows bitter
You become your own prisoner as you watch yourself sit there
Wrapped up in a trap of your very own
Chain of sorrow
Today, John Prine’s music is a grounding force for me, and as a fisherman, it feels a lot like my home waters. It’s a place of intimate familiarity that still has enough nooks and crannies to keep me checking under a few logs along the shoreline in John’s vast pool of emotions. I find John has created an aura of overwhelming calm confidence and understanding that adheres to and enhances every aspect of our lives. It’s a fool’s errand to attempt placing a finger on the magic that is John Prine. But perhaps the most profound part of his brilliance was that he noticed people; and not just the ones that stuck out. He spotted gems in easily overlooked places and gave a voice to those who expected themselves too ordinary to have one. John taught us what it meant to be human, and his watchful eye and down-to-earth demeanor left him well qualified on the subject. If we lose our way, we may need nothing more than to head to the family back porch, put his music on the speakers, and listen as John reminds us of who we are.
I got no hate and I got no pride. I got so much love that I cannot hide