Pin It

Goofy Eloquence 

click to enlarge John Prine plays the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall on January 6.
  • John Prine plays the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall on January 6.

John Prine didn’t want to do an interview. After more than 35 years making music, he claims he’s said all he has to say in that forum. He prefers his songs to speak for him.

Prine’s debut album, John Prine, was released in 1971 and got him hailed as a “new Dylan,” a singer-songwriter’s kiss of death. He managed to shake off that jinx, and ever since has been writing songs that are, by turns, tender, joyful, droll, poignant, eloquent, and sometimes just plain goofy. Indeed, that’s the name of one of his standards, “It’s a Big Old Goofy World,” a song made up entirely of similes, whose nonsense verses—’cause if you lie like a rug / and you don’t give a damn / you’re never gonna be / as happy as a clam—nevertheless remain both endearing and true.

Prine was born outside Chicago in 1946 and raised in rural Kentucky. He moved back to the Windy City in the 1960s, where he worked as a mailman and wrote songs while walking his route. He came up in the singer-songwriter scene there with fellow songster and kindred spirit Steve Goodman, who introduced Prine’s work to Kris Kristofferson. Kristofferson helped facilitate Prine’s signing with his first major label, Atlantic Records.

Prine penned many of his most timeless tunes in the 1970s, like the colorful, “Grandpa was a Carpenter,” about his grandfather who was level on the level / and shaved even every door / and voted for Eisenhower / ’cause Lincoln won the war; the sly “Dear Abby,” which lampoons the advice columnist: Dear Abby, Dear Abby / Well I never thought / That me and my girlfriend would ever get caught / We were sitting in the back seat just shooting the breeze / With her hair up in curlers and her pants to her knees / Signed Just Married; and the melancholy, often-covered “Angel From Montgomery,” a searing portrait of old age that begins, I am an old woman / named after my mother / my old man’s another / child that’s grown old / If dreams were lightnin’ / and thunder were desire / this old house would’ve burned down / a long time ago.

Tired of corporate record companies, Prine formed his own label, Oh Boy Records, in 1979. He won a Grammy for the 1991 The Missing Years (which he made with Tom Petty producer Howie Epstein), then in 1997 was diagnosed with neck cancer, which, following surgery and radiation treatment, made his voice go lower. He didn’t release another album of new material until the 2005 Fair & Square, which revealed that his heart and mischievous humor were still intact. In one of the record’s best songs, “Takin’ a Walk,” he recounts a surprise visit to an ex-lover: I wish you could have been there / when she opened up the door / and looked me in the face / like she never did before / I felt about as welcome / as a Wal-Mart Superstore. For most, however, a visit from the singer is cause for celebration.

Prine will appear at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall on January 6 at 7:30pm. (518) 273-0038;

Speaking of...

  • Satoko Fujii Brings New Band to Troy
  • Satoko Fujii Brings New Band to Troy

    The Japanese jazz pianist's quartet Tobira will play at the Sanctuary for Independent Media on November 21.
    • Nov 17, 2015
  • Caleb Klauder Country Band Kicks it Up
  • Caleb Klauder Country Band Kicks it Up

    The Foghorn Stringband offshoot will play an old-fashioned barn dance in Ancramdale on November 15.
    • Nov 5, 2015
  • Benefit Concert for Sing Out! International
  • Benefit Concert for Sing Out! International

    Sing Out! International is hosting a benefit concert, Wednesday, November 18th at Snugs in New Paltz, featuring The Black Horse Riders and Snowbear, to fundraise for its upcoming music therapy program for former child soldiers at Hope North Uganda.
    • Nov 1, 2015
  • More »
  • John Prine will appear at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall on January 6 at 7:30pm.


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Hudson Valley Events

submit event
Friday Night Is Killing Me @ Club Helsinki

Friday Night Is Killing Me

Wed., Nov. 25, 9 p.m. — Tommy Stinson, a co-founder of the legendary post-punk outfit the Replacements and...

View all of today's events

Latest in Music

Related to Music

More by David Malachowski

  • CD Review: Voodelic

    David Malachowski reviews Voodelic's "Conjure."
    • Jan 26, 2010
  • Amy Laber

    New Paltz based singer/songwriter Amy Laber is making a name for herself and her hypno-folk.
    • Mar 26, 2008
  • Kari Spieler

    The debut album from Poughkeepsie singer/songwriter Kari Spieler.
    • Feb 25, 2008
  • More »

Hudson Valley Tweets