It’s no secret among people who know me that I have a huge admiration for the work of singer-songwriter John Prine. I became a fan relatively late in life after being introduced to his work by one of my senior dates. One positive benefit of midlife dating is that even if you don’t spark romantically you get exposed to new ideas. And when Bobby Opposite, during our epistolary phase, sent me a video clip of John singing Lake Marie in the West 54 sessions, I was hooked.
It is often commented that you either don’t know Prine or you love him. His songs were not played by radio stations and so never made the charts. But he built a loyal ever-growing fan base from the start of his career in the early seventies, not because of his voice, but because of his storytelling and lyrics. He wrote about the emotional landscape of ordinary people with an understanding and lyricism which, to my mind, is quite remarkable. In this way he spoke to and ennobled the blue collar workers of the Midwest and beyond.
Take, for example, his song Angel from Montgomery , which was made famous by Bonnie Rait. It is written from the point of view of a woman who thinks she’s older than she is, and senses that all her life chances are trickling away. Hearing Prine singing from this older female perspective make the lyrics all the more powerful.
I am an old woman/ named after my mother/ my old man is another child who’s grown old.
If dreams were thunder/and lightning was desire/ this old house would have burned down a long time ago.
Make me an angel who flies from Montgomery
Make me a poster of an old rodeo
Just give me some thing that I can hold on to
To believe in this living is just a hard way to go