“That’s the way the world goes ’round. You’re up one day, the next you’re down. It’s half an inch of water and you think you’re gonna drown. That’s the way the world goes ’round.” – John Prine
John Prine died today from COVID-19 complications.
The thing about musicians, the really great ones, is that from the first moment the first notes of their great songs are played, they earn a kind of immorality. Great music gets etched onto our souls, forever connecting the music to the moments we heard it. You’re probably already thinking about those moments that are just linked to a particular song that evokes something that doesn’t vanish even when the musician has played his last show.
In the case of John Prine’s music, here is one of those special memories:
I didn’t know anything about Prine until a few years back, the summer of 2012 as I recall, sitting in a steak house in Bragg Creek, Alberta with my mom Lyn Tucker and my father Larry Tucker. The place doesn’t exist anymore, sadly. It was destroyed in a flood. But the Bar-B-Q Steak Pit had more character in one of its weathered floorboards than most restaurants could hope for. A sign in the entranceway instructed you to leave your guns at the bar, and you dined under massive chandeliers made of antlers while country music fans in 10-gallon hats took their turns on a stage in front of a massive wall made of massive logs, singing on an open mic night.
We sat listening to the singers, and Poppa Larry assured me I was in for one of the greatest steaks I would ever eat. Then he asked the question.
“Have you ever listened to John Prine?”
No, I said. Larry laughed and guffawed his guffaw and smiled his smile – if you know him you already know what I mean – and just began to recite a poem with a conviction that made you think he wrote it:
“Last night I saw an accident, on the corner of Third and Green. Two cars collided and I got excited, just being part of that scene. It was Mrs. Tom Walker and her beautiful daughter, Pamela, was driving the car. They got hit by a man in a light blue sedan, who had obviously been to a bar.”
I was to learn to these were the lyrics to The Accident, by John Prine – a silly song about a fender bender that is clever, funny and both celebrates, and pokes fun a,t the attitudes of ordinary folk.
“It was a four-way stop dilemmia. We all arrived the same time. I yielded to the man to the right of me, and he yielded right back to mine. Well, the yield went around and around and around, till Pamela finally tried. Just then the man in the light blue sedan hit Pamela’s passenger side.”
Larry recited the rest of the song, and several others to boot, opening the door to a world of amazing music that I could scarcely imagine life without now.
That’s the Way the World Goes ‘Round. Sam Stone. Sabu Visits the Twin Cities Alone. Long Monday. In Spite of Ourselves. The Oldest Baby in the World.
And my absolute two favourites: Clay Pigeons and Angel From Montgomery.
In many ways, Prine’s music reminds of me of Louis Armstong. It is the sort of music that says “Yah, life is going to knock you down. And then kick you when you try to get up. And it’s going to hurt each and every time. But you know what? It really is going to be OK in the end.”
So for me, when I hear John Prine, I am always brought back to that steak house, the dim light and the antler chandeliers and my father reciting lyrics of pure joy.
The best kind of memories.