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John Prine Was a Giant Among Songwriters

Gettyimages | Rich Fury

John Prine, 73, a legendary artist who captivated country music and folk music fans for decades, has died after suffering complications from the coronavirus.

Prine died at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. According to Pitchfork, Prine's family confirmed that he had died of the novel coronavirus.

Prine first worked at the post office, then entered the Army. After he was discharged, he went back to his route, and composed songs in his head along the way: “I passed the time each day making up these little ditties.”

An open-mic night at the Fifth Peg in Chicago was his breakthrough moment.

“It was like I found out all of a sudden that I could communicate deep feelings and emotions. And to find that out all at once was amazing.”

Dylan Is a Fan

Gettyimages | Tom Hill

The late movie critic Roger Ebert of the "Chicago Sun-Times," gave Prine his first music review, which spoke to the way his lyrics could reach almost anyone.

Ebert wrote:

“He appears onstage with such modesty he almost seems to be backing into the spotlight. He sings rather quietly, and his guitar work is good, but he doesn’t show off. He starts slow. But after a song or two, even the drunks in the room begin to listen to his lyrics. And then he has you.”

Bob Dylan, himself a fan of Prine's work, talked about his influence in a 2009 interview, saying: “Prine’s stuff is pure Proustian existentialism. Midwestern mind trips to the nth degree. And he writes beautiful songs.”

Long-Reaching Influence

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Prine was a squamous cell cancer survivor and had a tumor removed from his neck in 1998. After that battle, his voice took on a new layer of grit and determination.

His 2005 album, Fair & Square, earned him his second Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album. The album directly addressed his experience.

Prine influenced many songwriters, among them Bonnie Raitt, Dylan, My Morning Jacket, Kris Kristofferson, and more. Kristofferson introduced him at a show in Greenwich Village early in his career, telling the crowd, “No way somebody this young can be writing so heavy. John Prine is so good, we may have to break his thumbs.”

Finding the Comedy In the Dark Spots

Gettyimages | Tom Hill

Prine also had a keen sense of humor, which could be found in songs like “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore," and “Some Humans Ain’t Human."

“I guess what I always found funny was the human condition. There is a certain comedy and pathos to trouble and accidents," he said in a 2013 interview for "The Telegraph."

Here's Hoping the Afterlife Is Grand For Prine

Gettyimages | Tom Hill

He had a dry wit that was easily accessible to people because it spoke at a level we could all understand. He also wrote several songs about heaven, such as getting into heaven and what he'll do when he gets there.

The beginning verses to "When I Get To Heaven" slap you in the face for being so poignant and bittersweet.

When I get to heaven, I'm gonna shake God's hand

Thank him for more blessings than one man can stand

Then I'm gonna get a guitar and start a rock-n-roll band

Check into a swell hotel; ain't the afterlife grand?

And then I'm gonna get a cocktail: vodka and ginger ale

Yeah, I'm gonna smoke a cigarette that's nine miles long

I'm gonna kiss that pretty girl on the tilt-a-whirl

'Cause this old man is goin' to town

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