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John Kruth on John Prine

It’s been a little over a year since John Prine left us. And I dreamed I saw John Prine last night, alive as you or me. We were sitting, talking backstage at some grand venue. I said, “I really loved the first three records, particularly that second one, Souvenirs.

He said, “Oh, that was a hard one to make, comin’ so quick after the first one. But I never liked that picture of me, my face was red as a beet and my hair stickin’ out like a porcupine.”

“But the cover shot on Sweet Revenge was great,” I said. “You look all cowboy cool, with your aviator shades and shitkickers. Like Jet Rink parked in the middle of nowhere.”

“You ever take a close look at the reflection in my glasses?” he said. “That’s where the good stuff’s is!”

I told John I like to play “Sweet Revenge” on my mandolin.

“I know,” he said. “I can hear ya. My hearings gotten a lot better since I got here,” he said.

“Well,” I said, cutting to the chase, “What’s it like in heaven?”

“I got a Martin D-45 and a jumbo-body Gibson J-200, just like Jack Clement’s!” he said with a laugh.

“Where do you get your strings?”

To which he replied: “What are you kidding me? They just pop right outta the ground like weeds!”

I laughed so hard I woke up and wrote this down.

John wanted me to sing a verse of his song "Paradise." We were playing for the encore and I didn't know the words, so I played a solo instead. Later, backstage, he was laughing that he told me to take it and I was the only guy in the place who didn't know the words!

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John Kruth is the author of musical biographies including To Live’s To Fly: The Ballad of the Late, Great Townes Van Zandt (recipient of the ASCAP/Deems Taylor Award); Rhapsody in Black: The Life & Music of Roy Orbison, and This Bird Has Flown: The Enduring Beauty of Rubber Soul 50 Years On. He has written for The New York Times, Rolling Stone, and The Progressive. As a musician, he was known for his "banshee mandolin" style.

Peabody Coal Company, referenced in this song, used its political clout to push through coal mines and coal-fired plants on Navajo and Hopi land in the Four Corners region of the Southwest in the 1970s. One by one, those coal-burning plants are shutting down now.

One of our first stories at Journal of the Plague Year was Alec Dubro's piece on John Prine. Prine died of complications from Covid a few hours after he turned it in. We did a quick rewrite. See it here.