It was my birthday in August of 2005. I just turned the ripe, cynical, and young age of 25. My brother handed me a wrapped something and said happy birthday. Within the wrapping paper was an album that changed things for me. It didn't wow me, but it did something better it moved me. It was my first introduction to a man that would, from that point on, be a part of my life to an extent at the time that I had no idea. The man was John Prine and the album was "Fair and Square." I listened to that album so much I think I had to by a new one because it got scratched as I was trying to embed every note of the guitar chords and every breath of each lyric sung into my skin and bloodstream. Trying to inject all these songs into the core of my being, and it worked because they never left.
John Prine soon became a part of my musical family. My brother and I would sit out on our back porch or take a drive somewhere, and the soundtrack was John. It's not easy putting this all into words. Because when someone like John Prine loses the fight it makes the world a little less bright. So the stories I have get muddled. Mine are more like remembrances. I remember the first time I heard John sing "Down on the Side of the Road," and the lyric "goddamn! My socks are still hard." Shit, it hit like a punch in the gut. For the first time I realized somebody else other than family went through the same thing I did. Somebody else has been there too. It was comforting. He was like an uncle I never met. He sounded like the west side of Chicago that I knew and was raised in.
I could rattle off a list of songs that started filling my ears after hearing "Fair and Square" for the first time. I could, but I won't. Not because I'm being mean, instead I'd rather anyone who has never heard him just go buy his album and listen for yourself. No album in particular either anyone will suffice. The beauty of my John Prine experience was that there was no itunes to just dial up quick. Instead, I'd have to go to the music store that I can't remember the name of that was in Cermak Plaza. And, when I got to said music store try to remember why I was there instead of getting sidetracked by that Ramones album I wanted or some other album by some other artist that when I saw it, I had to have. The search for the songs was just as fun as the experience listening to them after. And I was hooked.So, a few weeks ago when I heard he was sick I was equal parts scared and hopeful. Scared that it would take him away from us, and hopeful that if anybody could beat it that it would be John Prine. Then as I was winding down for the evening it happened. He lost. I'm not going to say it crushed me but shit it damn near did. It made me walk a little lower. It's shrunk me down a little bit. Trying to come terms with the death of somebody that was so prevalent in my life has been hard. However, what will last for the end of time will be his music. A book of songs that reads just as good as any autobiography could. The art will remain, and the mystery of some of that art will too. I kind of like it better that way. Yes, I cried, but the next day when I walked into work and the whole week following and honestly ever since it's only been you Mr. Prine. I'm coming out of the mourning, and I'm now in this phase of how I first sat down with "Fair and Square." Only instead of injecting I'm letting it all out. The feelings I've ingrained in my soul will forever be there, and for that I thank you John Prine.
I'm at seven hundred words and counting right now, and I could write more. Not out of pride, but because there is more to say that I feel like I’m not saying. Some of that though I'll keep for me. Iris Dement sang "I’ll just let the mystery be" and sometimes it’s better that way to just let it alone. Besides John Prine says it a lot better than I could in any number of songs. So John, cheers to you sir and hope you are having that cigarette and that cocktail.