Five Cool Things and a Salute to John Prine

Tomorrow is Easter. Due to social distancing, we won’t be attending church, nor will we be having our traditional dinner with my parents and siblings. We won’t be gathering with friends for the annual egg hunt. We will be doing what we’ve been doing the last several Sundays – we will sit at home watching television, reading books, and generally trying not to get on each other’s nerves. We have some plastic eggs and we were planning on filling them with candy and letting my daughter hunt for them in the yard. Then the forecast said rain so we decided to push it up to today. Then we couldn’t find the eggs. We must have left them at somebody’s house last year.

Buy John Prine – Prime Prine CD

That was one blow too many. We need to have some kind of Easter and so I promised to run to the store and pick some plastic eggs and candy up. Though I live but a block from Wal-Mart, I decided to run to the Dollar General. Wal-Mart is always packed despite the warnings against going out. They just implemented a new policy by which they do limit the number of people into their store at one time, but last I heard, the masses were huddling in that entry space between doors, which seems very unsafe.

The Dollar General is about seven miles down the highway and I was hoping it would not be crowded on a Saturday afternoon. I was wrong, but at least most of the people were distancing themselves and at least half were wearing masks. I got the items we needed, got in the car only to realize it needed gas. This is my wife’s car, by the way, which maybe is important. I filled the tank, got back in, and couldn’t start the car. The key wouldn’t turn. I pulled it out and put it back in. Jiggled it a bit. I took it back out and saw it break apart in my hands. It is one of those fancy keys with the buttons on it. The plastic part broke in half. I’m no mechanic but I figure a connection was broken keeping the key from signaling the car that it was ok to start.

I reached for my phone to call my wife only to realize I’d left it at home. I thought about asking to borrow a phone only to realize I don’t actually know my wife’s number. Who needs memorization when you just punch her name on the phone? I told the clerk about my situation so they wouldn’t tow my car sitting at their pump for so long. Then I started to walk the seven miles back. It was a nice day, but sunny. That sun felt good for the first mile. By the second, it was starting to burn. I prayed for a cop to stop me. Or maybe a kind stranger. Instead, I got my brother. He and his wife had got up early that morning for a nice hike and just so happened to driving back home and recognized my gait. He took me home and then the real fun began.

I called my mother, who has AAA, to see if she could get me a tow truck. My wife called the insurance to see if they could help. At first, we figured we’d tow the car to our house and then get a new key come Monday. But my resourceful wife started making calls to several Honda dealers to see if they could help today. One said they could but we’d have to tow the car to them and pay them about $300 for the key. Mom’s tow service would also charge beaucoup dollars for the long tow (the dealership was a good 30 miles away). Darling wife made some more calls and found one who said they could fix the key. Unfortunately, they were about 45 minutes away. I took my truck and made the drive. I got the key (only $15!) and drove back to the broken car.

The key didn’t work. It wouldn’t even fit all the way into the hole. Remembering the dealership guys said that this was a new key and might need a little rubbing to wear it down a bit, I kept trying to gently jam it in. Slowly, but sure I got there and home I went. Well, first I hit up a Sonic because it was 3 in the PM and I’d not had lunch. Then, it was pick up the wife and kid, drive back to the gas station to get my truck, and finally home.

That was definitely not how I expected my Saturday to go. All of this is to say that my brain is way too tired to be able to pour out intelligent thoughts about the cool things I’ve consumed this week. Instead, you are going to get a bunch of John Prine recordings. I wrote about him last week and how he was in the hospital, sick with Covid-19. Well, he lost that battle and died on April 7. He was a master songwriter and what better way to celebrate his life than which a bunch of his songs?

“Jesus the Missing Years”

I discovered John Prine through my friend Matt in college. He had Prine’s 1991 album The Missing Years and I instantly fell in love. There’s not a bad song on the album but it was the titular song that did it for me. The Bible says quite a lot about Jesus’s birth and follows him closely during the last few years of his life, but it is completely silent about what he did during his teenage years up until about 30. Prine’s song makes up a story about what happened during those so-called missing years. Like the best of his songs, “Jesus The Missing Years” is irreverent, riotously funny, and just a little bit sad.

“Angel From Montgomery” – w/Bonnie Raitt

The ninth song on his self-titled debut album has been covered by numerous artists including Carly Simon, John Denver, Brandi Carlile, and John Mayer, but it is Bonnie Raitt who made it hers. She toured with Prine in the 1970s just as they were both getting their start and that song hit her deep. She continues to play it during most of her concerts and she recently did a duet of the song with Prine for the Americana Honors program.

“The Speed of the Sound of Loneliness”

From his 1986 album German Afternoons.

“In Spite of Ourselves” – with Iris Dement

A song so romantic I put it on the mixtape I made for our wedding reception music.

“Lake Marie”

In his later years, Prine got to where he’d close out every show with this song from his 1995 album Lost Dogs and Mixed Blessings. It mixes a folk tale about how the titular lake got its name with an intimate story about a dying relationship and a brutal murder. This version proves that Prine was not only a great songwriter, but that he was a force of nature live as well. He’s generally known an an old folkie but him and his small band really rock this one out.

NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert Salutes John Prine

NPR regularly does a live performance series in which artists come to their offices and perform a few of their songs. Due to the Covid-19 virus, their offices are shut down, but they talked fives songwriters into performing one of their favorite John Prine songs from their homes. It is a loving tribute and I’ll leave you with it.

Mat Brewster

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