Diamond in the Rough

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Diamond in the Rough

Diamond(s) in the Rough, the name of the late John Prine’s second album, is a perfect description of his life. He was a prolific songwriter who could write real songs about real people. His songs can make you cry, laugh, reflect, and rejoice. He was authentic in a world of noise. Illegal Smile, Hello in There, Sam Stone, Angel From Montgomery, and Dear Abby were just a few of his many gems. He could truly be described as a diamond in the rough.

The Singing Mailman

John Prine was known to some on his route as “the singing Mailman”. He took a job delivering mail after serving in the Army, and would sing along his way, collecting song ideas for five years before trying them at open mic nights. Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun Times’ Movie Reviewer) heard him and wrote a favorable review, giving him a leg-up in the blossoming Chicago folk scene.

He recorded his first album, the eponymous John Prine, in 1971. His Hello in There describes old age. It made me cry when I first heard it. Still does:

“Hello In There”

© 1971 John Prine

We had an apartment in the city,
Me and Loretta liked living there.
Well, it’d been years since the kids had grown,
A life of their own left us alone.
John and Linda live in Omaha,
And Joe is somewhere on the road.
We lost Davy in the Korean war,
And I still don’t know what for,
Don’t matter anymore.

You know that old trees just grow stronger,
And old rivers grow wilder every day.
Old people just grow lonesome
Waiting for someone to say, “Hello in there, hello.”

Me and Loretta, we don’t talk much more,
She sits and stares through the back door screen.
And all the news just repeat itself
Like some forgotten dream that we’ve both seen.

Someday I’ll go and call up Rudy,
We worked together at the factory.
But what could I say if he asks “What’s new?”
“Nothing, what’s with you? Nothing much to do.”

You know that old trees just grow stronger,
And old rivers grow wilder every day.
Old people just grow lonesome
Waiting for someone to say, “Hello in there, hello.”

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.”

© 1971 John Prine

Hello in There- John Prine

John went on to record six more albums for two major record labels when he decided to form his own-Oh Boy Records- in 1984. He recorded eleven more studio and four live albums on his label and never looked back.

Health Issues

Prine faced life-challenging health issues starting in 1998 with squamous cell cancer on the right side of his neck. Surgery and six weeks of radiation treatments left its mark. He needed a year of healing and speech therapy before he could perform again, but he did, thank God!

John had to have part of his left lung removed due to cancer in 2013. His rehab was running up and down the stairs and playing/singing two songs while out of breath to build endurance. He was performing in six months!

The Final Diamond in the Rough

The final diamond in the rough by John Prine is The Tree of Forgiveness , released in 2018. The last track on the album, again, makes me cry:

When I Get to Heaven

© 2018 John Prine

[Verse 1]
When I get to heaven, I’m gonna shake God’s hand
Thank him for more blessings than one man can stand
Then I’m gonna get a guitar and start a rock-n-roll band
Check into a swell hotel; ain’t the afterlife grand?

[Chorus]
And then I’m gonna get a cocktail: vodka and ginger ale
Yeah, I’m gonna smoke a cigarette that’s nine miles long
I’m gonna kiss that pretty girl on the tilt-a-whirl
‘Cause this old man is goin’ to town

[Verse 2]
Then as God as my witness, I’m gettin’ back into showbusiness
I’m gonna open up a nightclub called “The Tree of Forgiveness”
And forgive everybody ever done me any harm
Why, I might even invite a few choice critics, those syphilitic parasitics
Buy ’em a pint of Smithwick’s and smother ’em with my charm

[Chorus]
‘Cause then I’m gonna get a cocktail: vodka and ginger ale
Yeah I’m gonna smoke a cigarette that’s nine miles long
I’m gonna kiss that pretty girl on the tilt-a-whirl
Yeah this old man is goin’ to town

[Verse 3]
Yeah when I get to heaven, I’m gonna take that wristwatch off my arm
What are you gonna do with time after you’ve bought the farm?
And them I’m gonna go find my mom and dad, and good old brother Doug
Well I’ll bet him and cousin Jackie are still cuttin’ up a rug
I wanna see all my mama’s sisters, ’cause that’s where all the love starts
I miss ’em all like crazy, bless their little hearts
And I always will remember these words my daddy said
He said, “Buddy, when you’re dead, you’re a dead pecker-head”
I hope to prove him wrong… that is, when I get to heaven

[Chorus]
‘Cause I’m gonna have a cocktail: vodka and ginger ale
Yeah I’m gonna smoke a cigarette that’s nine miles long
I’m gonna kiss that pretty girl on the tilt-a-whirl
Yeah this old man is goin’ to town
Yeah this old man is goin’ to town

© 2018 John Prine

When I Get To Heaven- John Prine

Last Battle

John Prine lost his last battle (with Covid-19) on April 7, 2020. He’s deeply missed by many.

Honest

Honest would be another great descriptor of John Prine’s music. Start with his first album and let it lead you down its less-traveled path. You won’t be sorry.

© 2020 J. Mark Witters Skyypilot Media Skyypilot.com

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