John Prine

Last week, John Prine passed away.

I had feared that would happen the moment I heard he had been diagnosed with Covid-19.

His passing is enough to make your heart feel like a bruised orange.

There’s a reason why so many singers and songwriters sang his praises in the days that followed.

He was one of the most sharp observers of the human condition, be it that encroaching loneliness of growing old, the toll of war, or just the fact you could get fired for being scared of bees.

He articulated our hopes and fears better than most songwriters you can name.

For that, he got branded with the term ‘New Dylan,’ a lazy shorthand that forgot he was the one and only John Prine.

I can’t help but feel that his work as a mailman contributed mightily to his evocative writing.

After all, when you are out there on your own, doing the same thing day after day, your mind has plenty of opportunity to wander, and I am glad his did.

It resulted in a debut album that was like a cookie jar, in that it was raided several times by other artists who were captivated by the likes of  Sam Stone, Angel From Montgomery, and Hello in There.

You can find many great covers of his work, but they did not always have that spirit, that modest self-amusement that Prine brought to this work.

That sense he was as tickled by what he came up with as you were.

And yet, Prine could break your heart when he articulated lives in disrepair, lovers in despair, or any other shortcomings you care to mention.

It’s kind of odd how what will now stand as his final album, 2018’s Tree of Forgiveness, ended with a song about what he was going to do when he got to heaven.

It demonstrated he hadn’t lost a step in the near-five decades since he first appeared on our collective radar.

It contained all the humor and tenderness that denoted much of his work, only this time married in a way that hadn’t quite been done before, suggesting he had many more ways that he could surprise us, had there been more time and opportunity.

All that had changed was his voice was more gravelly, the result of a bout with cancer.

It’s a surprisingly lively number for one concerned with mortality, so if there is a heaven, then I hope that Mr. Prine is there making short work of that nine-mile cigarette.

Scott Walker – The Plague

The plague Walker is referencing is the plague of desire.

Of wanting and needing.

But in these times, it is hard not to hear ‘every day I’ve got to fight the plague’ as summarizing our lives now.

Oddly relegated to a b-side back in the day, the song is a stunning what if, suggesting Walker could have pursued a heavier, almost rock, sound slightly in keeping with his contemporaries.

And yet, it does point the way to something like Cue, which appears to be about a pandemic, and is far, far more bleak, and bleakly funny, than The Plague.

If you are ever sourcing music for a horror film, you could do worse than to incorporate this at a key moment…