I was reminded again this morning why I love John Prine. The reminder didn’t come from John Prine, but from Natalie Goldberg, who was writing about Nanao Sakaki, who in turn was describing the haiku writer Kobayashi Issa.
“Not gifted with genius but honestly holding his experience deep in his heart, he kept his simplicity and humanity.”
See for yourself.
The first time I saw John Prine perform, both he and I were young. It was February 1981. Ed and I had tickets to hear Prine and Steve Goodman play at the Queen E Theatre in Vancouver, but by showtime the theatre staff were on strike, and the concert was moved to a ballroom in the Hyatt Regency Hotel. When Prine walked into the room (there was no stage) he said, “I had a hell of a time finding the place, but I finally did, and I’m glad you did, too.”
Glad doesn’t cover it.
By the way, he didn’t bother with an ashtray. He’d stick his cigarette on the end of a guitar string and it would bobble and burn through each verse and chorus. By the time he finished the song, like he says in the video, the cigarette would be done, so he’d light another.
Also, if you clicked on the link above to the article about Nanao Sakaki, you may have seen a poem that reminded you of John Prine’s “Big Old Goofy World.”
It did me.
If you have time to chatter
If you have time to read
Walk into mountain, desert and ocean
If you have time to walk
Sing Songs and dance
If you have time to dance
Sit quietly, you Happy Lucky Idiot
Plenty of people would dispute my statement that Prine is not gifted with genius. Lots of times I dispute it myself. But his genius or lack thereof is not the point. It’s the honest holding of his experience deep in his heart, the simplicity, and the humanity.
That’s what has kept me listening to and loving John Prine for forty years. That, and the way he tunes his guitar in the same key as my heart.
If you love him, too, please leave a comment telling me why.