John Prine: Day Is Done

10 Oct

John Prine

John Prine's 1995 album Lost Dogs and Mixed Blessings; if Dylan is looking for Lake Marie, it's track No. 5

Birthday greetings to singer/songwriter John Prine, who celebrates No. 65 today.

Many years ago, my friend TC and I shared, in no particular order, a love of Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks, 3 a.m. and Casey’s Tavern. Many nights when we had exhausted all three, he would inevitably request John Prine be put on the turntable (that’s how long ago it was).

The first time I told him I had no Prine, he was aghast, almost insulted. Second-class was charming in a taproom, not in a music collection. You need to listen to John Prine, he scolded, but when I learned that Prine had started out working for the postal service, like TC, I dismissed him. Postal workers stick together, I assumed.

Years later, long after TC and I had moved on to more respectable pursuits, I was in a used CD store (that’s how much later). I came across a Prine album (cover above) and because you could sample the fare before buying, I played it with TC’s words in mind. It took only a few notes to realize TC was right. Somewhere he was smirking and didn’t know why.

Irony is, Dylan, master of Blood on the Tracks, would always have agreed with TC.

Dylan on Prine, as told to the Huffington Post: “Prine’s stuff is pure Proustian existentialism. Midwestern mindtrips to the nth degree. And he writes beautiful songs. I remember when Kris Kristofferson first brought him on the scene. All that stuff about “Sam Stone” the soldier junky daddy and “Donald and Lydia,” where people make love from ten miles away. Nobody but Prine could write like that. If I had to pick one song of his, it might be “Lake Marie.” I don’t remember what album that’s on.”

Lake Marie is on Lost Dogs and Mixed Blessings, the album I sampled in the CD store. Talk about blessings. But, like a lot of Prine’s work, not many people bought it. According to wikipedia, Lost Dogs and Mixed Blessings reached 159th on the charts; no Prine album has been higher than 55th, which is far more an indictment of the audience than the performer.

It’d be even less, perhaps if not for Roger Ebert (and TC), who was one of the first to discover Prine in Chicago, where Prine delivered mail by day and sang at night (TC worked for the postal service by day and wrote sports at night).

Prine, on being discovered by Ebert, according to “I was singing at this little out-of-the-way club in Chicago and Ebert stopped in one night, got himself a beer and he had just walked out of a movie because the popcorn was too salty or something like that. He sat and listened to my songs and the next day instead of writing about the movie he wrote about me. The headline was ‘Singing Mailman Delivers The Message.’ He said my songs were like little movies and a lot more interesting than what they were showing down at the theatres.”

Prine’s next album harkens back to that long-ago headline. The Singing Mailman Delivers will be released later this month; Prine’s website says it will include live and studio recordings dating back four decades. I’ll be thinking of TC when I get my copy.

Lyrics from Day is Done (link below), also on Lost Dogs and Mixed Blessings, written by Prine and Gary Nicholson:

We’ll carve our names
On a tree
Then we’ll burn it down
So no one in the world will see

And we’ll make love
While we watch the flame
Then we’ll walk away
As if we never had no shame



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