After the passing of one of my favorite country music artists last month, Kenny Rogers, I was saddened to see the passing of another country-western legend, John Prine. His death was especially sad because he passed away from COVID-19 at the age of 73.
John Prine was the quintessential American songwriter with a working-class, blue-collar story that speaks to the very core of the “American dream.” Prine, who grew up in Maywood, Illinois (close to where I lived for years in Chicago’s western suburbs), learned how to play guitar at the Old Town School of Folk Music. He was a military veteran and former mailman who made his dreams big after being discovered by Kris Kristofferson and film critic Roger Ebert.
Some felt some of his lyrics were crass; others said Prine’s lyrics were honest and spoke to the heart and lives of hard-working Americans. I prefer to interact with and remember his music as the latter. I think I can say this for all who loved his music, it was authentic and should represent the best of American music.
Prine’s most famous album was In Spite of Ourselves. My favorite song on that album is (We’re Not) The Jet Set featuring Iris DeMent. A cover of the original song recorded by George Jones and Tammy Wynette, this song speaks to Prine’s country-folk roots, and makes fun of Americans’ perception of “the good life.” In short, it’s a great representation of his music and I invite you to listen to it if you haven’t already.
It’s been inspiring, and touching, to see the reaction to his death and legacy from other artists. Singer/songwriter Jason Isbell wrote an impactful piece dedicated to Prine that emotionally speaks to Prine’s unique storytelling abilities, Midwestern roots and his ability to make Isbell a more vulnerable and genuine person. Others such as Sheryl Crow, Dave Matthews, Mandy Moore and Seth Meyers also paid touching tributes.
While I loved all types of music, country-western and folk music especially speaks to my heart as a West Texas native. As we mourn the deaths of John Prine and Kenny Rogers, there’s no better way to tribute them than by playing their music as we hunker down in our homes amid the coronavirus pandemic. It’s important for younger generations to hear their music, a little slice of Americana, and their songs that will bring a smile to your face.
What are your favorite John Prine songs? And what memories stand out to you most about his music and legacy?
© 2020 Tyra Manning
Listen to my favorite John Prine song, “(We’re Not) The Jet Set” below: