John Prine, now there’s an original. He’s an ordinary guy with a beat-up face and a beat-up voice, and his songs get played by folkies and rockers in bars and basements across America. Not outside it though I bet, he is just so American, and I mean that in the best possible way. Spanish Pipedream is a cheerful little uptempo number that’ll make you smile. It’s from a long time ago but the sentiment is fresh: Blow up your TV / throw away the papers / move to the country / build yourself a home.
I stage-managed a John Prine concert sometime in the Seventies — my beer and rent money at college — and I’d call it in the top five concerts I’ve seen in my life, and I’ve seen a lot. This was I think on the Pink Cadillac tour, which at that point had been going for a year or more, and the band was amazingly, fabulously tight. I was standing at the side of the stage with a friend, a black dude with a cool accent (not sure how organic, he was from Winnipeg), he said “Man, they so tight they loose.” You only get that from endless, endless practice.
Now it helped that John has written a half-dozen songs that are among the greats, and that he’s a fine singer, can do a lot with that hard-workin’ voice, and that the band were relaxed and mellow that night. It was close to perfect.
Well, maybe one flaw. After, we were tearing down, carrying staging out to the truck in the freezing wee hours, one of the stagehands I’d hired said, apropos of nothing “Man, that was a lot of really sad music.” And most of his famous songs are. With maybe the single exception of Spanish Pipedream.
Which is from his eponymous first album, a treasure-trove of fine tunes (mostly sad), one or two more of which should be Songs Of some fine future Day. I suspect that if he’d never recorded another note he could retire in comfort on the publishing. I don’t know if anyone buys “albums” any more, but if you do, there are very few out there better than this one.
Links · Spotify playlist. This tune on Spotify, Amazon, iTunes. This live video is from a DVD called Live from Sessions at West 54th, which I must try to borrow or buy or something, looks like a good show.