A Thaddeus More About John Prine
As we were leaving the concert, I said something to Mama Pirate along the lines of, “It’s not often you see a guy singing his songs and you’ve known all the words for more than thirty years.” It struck me that John Prine is in a kind of unique position that way. There’s a kind of Dorian Gray rock ‘n’ roll hell inhabited by people like Mick Jagger who find themselves in their sixties hauling themselves around a stage singing songs about fucking that they wrote when they were teenagers. How sick must Mick be of having to pretend in his fourth decade of iconhood that satisfaction continues in some way to elude him. Prine, by contrast, somehow managed to build up a catalogue of rich and timeless observations on the human condition before he was in his late 20s. In his liner notes for Prine’s first album, Kris Kristofferson said of Prine, “Twenty-four years old and he writes like he’s about two-hundred and twenty.” It really is hard to believe that songs like Hello in There, Sam Stone, and Donald and Lydia came from so young a man. He sang all three of those songs the other night, and the effect is about as far as possible from that of an elderly rocker continuing to trade on the attitude of his youth. The songs and the thoughts they contain were fully mature in 1971. When that gray-haired, artificial-hipped man performed them under a solo spotlight, they were somehow leant an even extra measure of gravitas. Today nobody would accuse John Prine of seeming wise beyond his years. He’s probably wiser than he was at 24. Maybe not much, but some. In his case, it’s the years that have finally caught up with the wisdom.