Yesterday we lost one of America’s most celebrated singers and songwriters. John Prine died at 73 from complications of the Corona Virus. I believe he is the first celebrity to die from this disease, and the first person to die that has affected me.
If you’ve been reading these blogs since this pandemic hit the United States, you know that music, to me, is prayer. As John O’Donohue says: ” Music is what language would love to be if it could.” I have found no better way to communicate the depths of this time, both it’s obvious sorrows and hidden blessings.
John Prine knew how to do the same. The first song of his I ever heard was Bonnie Raitt’s rendition of “Angel from Montgomery.”
Her stirring lament: “How the hell can a person, go to work in the morning, come home in the evening, and have nothing to say?” … is a regret many have felt amid the loneliness that sometimes comes when we’re not alone. Even more touching the sadness of “Hello In There,” which he said was his favorite of all the songs he wrote.
I saw John in concert once. He opened for Johnny Cash in the late 1980s at The Ritz in New York City. I brought my mother, who was in the middle stages of Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease. She could not be unsupervised and was regularly declining, but she still knew and still adored Johnny Cash. It was one of my last gifts to her, the concert itself but more so the chance and moving encounter that occurred. Decked out head-to-toe in black, including my hair (shadow mystic in the making), I knew how to get up to the stage at The Ritz and pulled my little mother up there with me. It paid off. Right before Johnny Cash took the stage, she saw him standing near us behind the speakers. She grabbed my arm and said, “Josie! There’s Johnny Cash!” He heard her.
I suppose that has nothing to do with John Prine, except that it does. My memory of him is rooted in my memory of this. The night Johnny Cash smiled and waved at my mother. I’ve never heard or thought of him since without remembering it. So today, I thank him for the music and the memory. Maybe there’s a Ritz in Heaven where Johnny Cash, and now John Prine sing to my mother.
“Ya’ know that old trees just grow strongerJohn Prine, “Hello In There”
And old rivers grow wilder ev’ry day
Old people just grow lonesome
Waiting for someone to say,
“Hello in there, hello.”