John Prine died this week. I won’t claim that it shook me to my core, or that I broke down when I heard the news. It was more like the moment immediately after you get a bad papercut, when you feel some small painful thing, but you know the blood will start to flow soon, and you’d better treat it quickly.
I treated it with a vodka and ginger ale, as it seemed appropriate, and by listening to Fair & Square. Dad gave me that album years ago and it always reminds me of him.
Do you remember that time he sat us down and made us listen to “Some Humans Ain’t Human”? He thought its criticism of George W. Bush and the general meanness of others was powerful. It didn’t mean much to me. It’s hard to get someone else to feel a song’s effects that it has on you, especially when you’re right in front of them.
But after I had the chance to play the album on my own for the first time, some day years later when I was cleaning my room, I did feel something. “Glory of True Love” had a buoyancy and lightness that perked me up; “Long Monday” felt like a preview of adulthood. But it was his version of “Clay Pigeons” that floored me, made me sit down and weep. It’s so damn melancholy, but I hear some hope in it too. And when I hear that song now, I think of dad.