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The Passing of John Prine

I just got news on this Tuesday night that John Prine has passed away, from complications related to Covid-19. He was 73. And this one hurts…

All of my siblings are older than me, and when I began lifeguarding for Palm Beach County after my freshman year of college, I acquired mentors who were also a little older than me, and in a slightly more advanced stage of existence. Many of my literary and musical heroes came from these relationships, and John Prine, along with Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell, and Bob Dylan, magically combined the two.

As a professor at Montana State University I was fortunate enough to have a radio show on the campus/regional radio station, KGLT. This was a free form radio station, one of the few remaining in the country, staffed almost entirely by volunteers. There were D.J.’s who had been doing a show for 20 plus years, and there were 19-year-olds just beginning their musical journey. ALL of them played John Prine.

Legend has it that Steve Goodman convinced Kris Kristofferson to go hear Prine late one night in Chicago in 1970, after they had all finished their respective shows. Kristofferson reluctantly obliged, and the closed tavern where Prine had played allowed a few people back in, taking a few chairs off the tables. Kristofferson wrote, “there are few things as depressing to look at as a bunch of chairs upside down on the table of an empty old tavern, and there was that awkward moment, us sitting there like ‘Okay, kid, show us what you got’, and him standing up there alone, looking down at his guitar like, ‘What the hell are we doing here, buddy?’. Then he started singing, and by the end of the first line we knew we were hearing something else. Twenty-four years old and writes like he’s two-hundred and twenty.”

I was fortunate enough to see him perform on a few occasions, and each of them had a special element. The first time I saw him was at Arizona State in 1995, with a girl named Emerson Adams. I had met her just as she was dropping out of ASU and moving back to Tennessee. She was a fan of his music so we went to his show the day before she was leaving town. I picked her up in my VW bus, dropped her off after the show, she moved back home, and we never saw each other again. A blissful moment in time…

In the summer of 2004, my ex-wife and I saw John Prine at the Emerson Theater in Bozeman, Montana. We had been to the Crystal Bar pre-show, and by the time we arrived, we were relegated to holding up a column in the back of the theater. Both of us left thinking he had been singing directly to us…

The final time I saw John Prine alive was at the Americana Music Association award ceremony in Nashville, November of 2017 with my friend Penny Devine. We were there to see Van Morrison the following night, but lucked into tickets for the awards ceremony. The performers that night included Van, Graham Nash, Robert Cray, Billy Bragg, Jason Isbell, Drive by Truckers, and Marty Stuart. The highlight of the night was John Prine singing “Lake Marie” and duetting with Iris Dement on “In spite of ourselves”.

As I close my eyes on this day and send my thoughts out to him, I am thankful for the impact he has had on my world view specifically, and my love of music overall. “So if you're walking down the street sometime and spot some hollow ancient eyes, please don't just pass 'em by and stare as if you didn't care, say, ‘Hello in there, hello’”. Rest in Peace John…


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Rachelle Wadsworth
Rachelle Wadsworth
Apr 27, 2020

Not of much comfort, perhaps, but he achieved immortality through his music, and all the people he influenced and touched through same. You have the opportunity to carry his legacy forward in the next generation(s).


Beautiful tribute to a legend I learned of way too late in the game. Grateful his music lives on and especially grateful for the spectacular memory of him and Iris Dement crooning "In Spite of Ourselves." What a delight.

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