John Prine passed away Tuesday night after fighting COVID-19.
I’m of the opinion that artists don’t tell us something new. They remind us of things we already know but may have forgotten. That shock of re-recognition is a connection with the divine.
In 1963, 22-year-old Bob Dylan stood in front of a crowd and recited a sort of poem, almost a chant or an incantation.
“When yer head gets twisted and yer mind grows numb ...” he started. For about seven minutes he continued, describing a variety of ailments, before describing a fix:
You can either go to the church of your choice
Or you can go to Brooklyn State Hospital
You'll find God in the church of your choice
You'll find Woody Guthrie in Brooklyn State Hospital.
God or Woody Guthrie: They get you to the same place. They both fix you “when yer head gets twisted.”
If you look through John Prine’s catalog, I don’t think you’ll find any words that open up new worlds or suggest hitherto unknown aspects of the human experience. But his best songs are divine reminders.
One theme is processing or moving on from anger. I think the best is probably “Bruised Orange (Chain of Sorrow),” a song inspired by a train accident that a young Prine witnessed in his hometown of Maywood, Illinois.
You can gaze out the window, get mad and get madder,
Throw your hands in the air, say "What does it matter?"
But it don't do no good to get angry,
So help me I know.
For a heart stained in anger grows weak and grows bitter.
You become your own prisoner as you watch yourself sit there
Wrapped up in a trap of your very own
Chain of sorrow.
Even if you’re not a fan of Prine, why not sit for 30 minutes or so and listen to some of his songs some quiet afternoon? Here’s are some suggestions: