Americana legend John Prine passed away on April 7th, 2020 from complications of Coronavirus. He was 73. Before he spent 50 years as a full-time musician, he was a mailman. He wrote songs as he completed his route, songs “about certain silent things that people didn’t talk about.” In this piece at Rolling Stone by Patrick Doyle, John’s widow Fiona and his son Jody remember Prine for his love of music, performing on stage, and his way of finding joy in the smallest things in life.
Prine said his grades were “too ugly” for college. After graduating high school in 1964, he took the advice of his oldest brother, Dave, and became a mailman. The pay was good, and so were the benefits. That life was upended when Prine was drafted into the Army in late 1966, just as the Vietnam War was heating up. But instead of being sent to Vietnam, he ended up in Stuttgart, West Germany, where he worked as a mechanical engineer. Prine played down his military service, describing his contribution as “drinking beer and pretending to fix trucks.”
After the war, Prine returned to his mail route, which, it turned out, was great for writing songs. Wandering the Chicago suburbs, he wrote classics like “Donald and Lydia,” about a couple who “made love from 10 miles away,” and “Far From Me,” a ballad about the chilly, purgatory-like feeling that consumed him before his first breakup. “A lot of stuff I was writing about were things I saw and felt and didn’t hear them in songs,” he said. “It was about certain silent things that people didn’t talk about.” Prine’s most fearless song looked back on his Army days: “Sam Stone,” about a vet who came home from Vietnam and ends up with a heroin habit. “I was trying to say something about our soldiers who’d go over to Vietnam, killing people and not knowing why you were there,” Prine told Rolling Stone in 2018. “And then a lot of soldiers came home and got hooked on drugs and never could get off of it.”
While the Prine family cannot have a public funeral right now, they are finding ways to celebrate him. “I’m going to wash all of his Cadillacs, park them all in the driveway,” Fiona says. “I would never let him do that.” Jody says he’s remembering his father by celebrating “the small stuff, because that’s what he loves, like a hot dog. Or an ice cream cone. We were having ice cream last night, just thinking about how, after a show, he’d always have ice cream and pretend it was someone’s birthday and get a cake.”