Monday, April 13, 2020

The John Prine Smile

TOM HILL / WIREIMAGE / GETTY

A young man from a small town
With a very large imagination...

On the evening of April 7th, I knew I would be writing a John Prine blog post on the Monday following his passing. In reading the outpouring of love from his fans, journalists and artists in the music business, what could I say that already hasn't been said about one of the greatest singer-songwriters of his generation. Now John Prine's generation- being born in 1946 is a hallowed sweet spot in time, right after World War II where a mighty legion of singer-songwriters grew of age in the 1960's - 70's to carry folk into country and rock 'n' roll, and then back-to-the-future with Americana.

John Prine's 1971 self-titled first album, John Prine is a masterpiece of songwriting and I was thinking about that album this past week and thought, "did he ever write a bad song?" Then, I thought about doing a comprehensive playlist, and that would be something like 150+ songs. Or, how about doing what many of the news outlets were doing, something like a "John Prine Essentials" list that would include songs like Sam Stone, Hello in There, Angel From Montgomery, Paradiseand the epic Lake Marie.

Then I started thinking about the #hashtag James Taylor has been using in several of his recent social media posts- #SongsOfComfort based on Yo Yo Ma's call for finding songs to help people at home during this pandemic.

That is when it hit me, how about just playing some of the fun and goofy songs where John's writing is the invention of a fun puzzle, an engaging mind-game within himself... the John Prine smile. Songs like, It's A Big Ol' Goofy World and Linda Goes to Mars, where even after the first, second and countless listens, the writer's expression is received... in your smile.

So here's a few of my favorite John Prine smiles that are worthy of the tag #FunSongs, #SongsOfComfort, or songs that simply define #CreativeWriting. Please take time to read the lyrics before playing each video as John's words are a collective bond that have touched so many of us deep to our core.

It's A Big Old Goofy World

Up in the morning
Work like a dog
Is better than sitting
Like a bump on a log
Mind all your manners
Be quiet as a mouse
Some day you'll own a home
That's as big as a house

I know a fella
He eats like a horse
Knocks his old balls
Round the old golf course
You oughta see his wife
She's a cute little dish
She smokes like a chimney
And drinks like a fish

There's a big old goofy man
Dancing with a big old goofy girl
Ooh baby
It's a big old goofy world

Now Elvis had a woman
With a head like a rock
I wished I had a woman
That made my knees knock
She'd sing like an angel
And eat like a bird
And if I wrote a song
She'd know ever single word

Kiss a little baby
Give the world a smile
If you take an inch
Give 'em back a mile
Cause if you lie like a rug
And you don't give a damn
You're never gonna be
As happy as a clam

So I'm sitting in a hotel
Trying to write a song
My head is just as empty
As the day is long
Why it's clear as a bell
I should have gone to school
I'd be wise as an owl
Stead of stubborn as a mule. 




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In Spite Of Ourselves
(feat. Iris DeMent)

She don't like her eggs all runny
She thinks crossin' her legs is funny
She looks down her nose at money
She gets it on like the Easter Bunny
She's my baby I'm her honey
I'm never gonna let her go

He ain't got laid in a month of Sundays
I caught him once and he was sniffin' my undies
He ain't too sharp but he gets things done
Drinks his beer like it's oxygen
He's my baby
And I'm his honey
Never gonna let him go

In spite of ourselves
We'll end up a'sittin' on a rainbow
Against all odds
Honey, we're the big door prize
We're gonna spite our noses
Right off of our faces
There won't be nothin' but big old hearts
Dancin' in our eyes.

She thinks all my jokes are corny
Convict movies make her horny
She likes ketchup on her scrambled eggs
Swears like a sailor when shaves her legs
She takes a lickin'
And keeps on tickin'
I'm never gonna let her go.

He's got more balls than a big brass monkey
He's a whacked out weirdo and a lovebug junkie
Sly as a fox and crazy as a loon
Payday comes and he's howlin' at the moon
He's my baby I don't mean maybe
Never gonna let him go

In spite of ourselves
We'll end up a sittin' on a rainbow
Against all odds
Honey, we're the big door prize
We're gonna spite our noses
Right off of our faces
There won't be nothin' but big old hearts
Dancin' in our eyes.
There won't be nothin' but big old hearts
Dancin' in our eyes.

[Spoken:]
In spite of ourselves




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Jesus, The Missing Years

[Spoken:]
Jesus... the missing years

It was raining. It was cold
West Bethlehem was no place for a twelve year old
So he packed his bags and he headed out
To find out what the world's about
He went to France. He went to Spain
He found love. He found pain.
He found stores so he started to shop
But he had no money so he got in trouble with a cop
Kids in trouble with the cops
From Israel didn't have no home
So he cut his hair and moved to Rome
It was there he met his Irish bride
And they rented a flat on the lower east side of Rome...
Italy that is
Music publishers, book binders, Bible belters, Money Changers,
Spoon Benders and lots of pretty Italian chicks.

[Chorus:]
Charley bought some popcorn
Billy bought a car
Someone almost bought the farm
But they didn't go that far
Things shut down at midnight
At least around here they do
Cause we all reside down the block
Inside at....23 Skidoo.

Wine was flowing so were beers
So Jesus found his missing years
So He went to a dance and said "This don't move me"
He hiked up his pants and he went to a movie
On his thirteenth birthday he saw "Rebel without a Cause"
He went straight on home and invented Santa Claus
Who gave him a gift and he responded in kind
He gave the gift of love and went out of his mind
You see him and the wife wasn't getting along
So he took out his guitar and he wrote a song
Called "The Dove of Love Fell Off the Perch"
But he couldn't get divorced in the Catholic Church
At least not back then anyhow
Jesus was a good guy he didn't need this shit
So he took a pill with a bag of peanuts and
A Coca-Cola and he swallowed it.
He discovered the Beatles
And he recorded with the Stones
Once He even opened up a three-way package
In Southern California for old George Jones

[Chorus]

The years went by like sweet little days
With babies crying pork chops and beaujolais
When he woke up he was seventeen
The world was angry. The world was mean.
Why the man down the street and the kid on the stoop
All agreed that life stank. All the world smelled like poop
Baby poop that is..the worst kind
So he grew his hair long and threw away his comb
And headed back to Jerusalem to find Mom, Dad and home
But when he got there the cupboard was bare
Except for an old black man with a fishing rod
He said "Whatcha gonna be when you grow up?"
Jesus said "God"
Oh my God, what have I gotten myself into?
I'm a human corkscrew and all my wine is blood
They're gonna kill me Mama. They don't like me Bud.
So Jesus went to Heaven and he went there awful quick
All them people killed him and he wasn't even sick
So come and gather around me my contemporary peers
And I'll tell you all the story of
Jesus...The Missing Years

[Chorus]

We all reside down the block
Inside at... 23 Skidoo.




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That's The Way That The World Goes 'Round

I know a guy that's got a lot to lose.
He's a pretty nice fellow but he's kind of confused.
He's got muscles in his head that ain't never been used.
Thinks he own half of this town.

Starts drinking heavy, gets a big red nose.
Beats his old lady with a rubber hose,
Then he takes her out to dinner and buys her new clothes.
That's the way that the world goes 'round.

That's the way that the world goes 'round.
You're up one day and the next you're down.
It's half an inch of water and you think you're gonna drown.
That's the way that the world goes 'round.

I was sitting in the bathtub counting my toes,
When the radiator broke, water all froze.
I got stuck in the ice without my clothes,
Naked as the eyes of a clown.

I was crying ice cubes hoping I'd croak,
When the sun come through the window, the ice all broke.
I stood up and laughed thought it was a joke
That's the way that the world goes 'round.




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Fish and Whistle Lyric Video



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Grandpa Was A Carpenter

Grandpa wore his suit to dinner
Nearly every day
No particular reason
He just dressed that way
Brown necktie and a matching vest
And both his wingtip shoes
He built a closet on our back porch
And put a penny in a burned out fuse.

[Chorus:]
Grandpa was a carpenter
He built houses stores and banks
Chain smoked Camel cigarettes
And hammered nails in planks
He was level on the level
And shaved even every door
And voted for Eisenhower
'Cause Lincoln won the war.

Well, he used to sing me
"Blood on the Saddle"
And rock me on his knee
And let me listen to radio
Before we got TV
Well, he'd drive to church on Sunday
And take me with him too!
Stained glass in every window
Hearing aids in every pew.

[Chorus]

Now my grandma was a teacher
Went to school in Bowling Green
Traded in a milking cow
For a Singer sewing machine
She called her husband "Mister"
And walked real tall and pride
And used to buy me comic books
After grandpa died.

[Chorus]




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Way Back Then

Night is falling
We're doing the things we do
You are acting just like me
I'm acting just like you
Do you remember
When you were my friend?
That's the way I'd like things
Just like way back then

Baby's sleeping
Brother is on the run
I am out undoing
All the good I've done
If you loved me
Tell you what I would do
Wrap the world in silver foil
Bring it home to you.

Lately I feel
That I can't pretend
I may never ever see
The likes of you again
I take a walk, I come back home
Then I sit a spell
Watch the ponies dance around
The empty wishing well.

Night has fallen
I've said the things I did
The only baby sleeping
Is when I was a kid
Do you remember
When you were my friend?
That's the way I'd like things
Just like way back then.




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Linda Goes To Mars

I just found out yesterday that Linda goes to Mars
Every time I sit and look at pictures of used cars
She'll turn on her radio and sit down in her chair
And look at me across the room, as if I wasn't there

[Chorus:]
Oh My stars! My Linda's gone to Mars
Well I wish she wouldn't leave me here alone
Oh My stars! My Linda's gone to Mars
Well, I wonder if she'd bring me something home.

Something, somewhere, somehow took my Linda by the hand
And secretly decoded our sacred wedding band
For when the moon shines down up on our happy, humble home
Her inner space gets tortured by some outer space unknown.

[Chorus]

Now I ain't seen no saucers 'cept the ones upon the shelf
And if I ever seen one I'd keep it to myself
For if there's life out there somewhere beyond this life on earth
Then Linda must have gone out there and got her money's worth.

[Chorus]

Yeah, I wonder if she'd bring me something home.




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Crazy As A Loon

Back before I was a movie star
Straight off of the farm
I had a picture of another man's wife
Tattooed on my arm
With a pack of Camel cigarettes
In the sleeve of my tee shirt
I'm headin' out to Hollywood
Just to have my feelings hurt

That town will make you crazy
Just give it a little time
You'll be walking 'round in circles
Down at Hollywood and Vine
You'll be waitin' on a phone call
At the wrong end of a broom
Yes, that town'll make you crazy
Crazy as a loon

So, I headed down to Nashville
To become a country star
Every night you'd find me hangin'
At every honky-tonk and bar
Pretty soon I met a woman
Pretty soon she done me wrong
Pretty soon my life got sadder
Than any country song

That town will make you crazy
Just give it a little time
You'll be walking 'round in circles
Lookin' for that country rhyme
You'll be waitin' on a phone call
At the wrong end of a broom
Yea, that town'll make you crazy
Crazy as a loon

So, I gathered up my savvy
Bought myself a business suit
I headed up to New York City
Where a man can make some loot
I got hired Monday morning
Downsized that afternoon
Overcome with grief that evening
Now I'm crazy as a loon

So I'm up here in the north woods
Just staring at a lake
Wondering just exactly how much
They think a man can take
I eat fish to pass the time away
'Neath this blue Canadian moon
This old world has made me crazy
Crazy as a loon
Lord, this world will make you crazy
Crazy as a loon




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Your Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore

While digesting Reader's Digest
In the back of a dirty book store,
A plastic flag, with gum on the back,
Fell out on the floor.
Well, I picked it up and I ran outside
Slapped it on my window shield,
And if I could see old Betsy Ross
I'd tell her how good I feel.

[Chorus:]
But your flag decal won't get you
Into Heaven any more.
They're already overcrowded
From your dirty little war.
Now Jesus don't like killin'
No matter what the reason's for,
And your flag decal won't get you
Into Heaven any more.

Well, I went to the bank this morning
And the cashier he said to me,
"If you join the Christmas club
We'll give you ten of them flags for free."
Well, I didn't mess around a bit
I took him up on what he said.
And I stuck them stickers all over my car
And one on my wife's forehead.

[Chorus]

Well, I got my window shield so filled
With flags I couldn't see.
So, I ran the car upside a curb
And right into a tree.
By the time they got a doctor down
I was already dead.
And I'll never understand why the man
Standing in the Pearly Gates said...

"But your flag decal won't get you
Into Heaven any more.
We're already overcrowded
From your dirty little war.
Now Jesus don't like killin'
No matter what the reason's for,
And your flag decal won't get you
Into Heaven any more."




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The Bottomless Lake

Here's the story of a man and his family
And a big trip that they took
Well, I heard all about in a restaurant
And I read it in a history book
They rented a car at the Erie Canal
But the car didn't have no brake
Said Ma to Pa "My God this car"
"Is gonna fall into the Bottomless Lake"

Well, Mama turned to Daddy with a pale face
Said "I've done something horribly wrong"
"Well, the waters still runnin' in the bathtub"
And I think I left the kitchen light on"
Then I heard a crash the car when splash
And the compass rolled around and around
Oh, for Heaven's Sake! We fell in a lake
And I think we're all gonna drown

[Chorus:]
We are falling down
Down to the bottom of a hole in the ground
Smoke 'em if you got 'em
I'm so scared I can hardly breathe
I may never see my sweetheart again

There was plenty of food in the backseat
And the windows were rolled up tight
So we all nibbled on a chicken leg
Told stories 'way thru' the night
Well, Pa told one that he told before
And the baby got a bellyache
Said Ma to Pa "My God this car"
"Falling down a Bottomless Lake"

[Chorus]

Poppa played the music on the radio
Mama rocked the baby to sleep
He said he would've taken the other road
But he didn't think the lake was that deep
Well, if the ferry been there at the end of the pier
We'd be half way to Uncle Jake's
Instead of looking at fish out the window I wish
We'd hit the bottom of the Bottomless Lake
'Stead of looking at fish out the window I wish
We'd hit the bottom of the Bottomless Lake

So if you're ever goin' on a big trip
Ya better be careful out there
Start everything on you good foot
And wear clean underwear
Take along a Bible in the backseat
Read of David and Solomon
For if you make a mistake in the Bottomless Lake
You may never see your sweetheart again
If you should make a mistake in the Bottomless Lake
You may never see your sweetheart again
If you should make a mistake in the Bottomless Lake
You may never see your sweetheart again




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Souvenirs

All the snow has turned to water
Christmas days have come and gone
Broken toys and faded colors
Are all that's left to linger on
I hate graveyards and old pawn shops
For they always bring me tears
I can't forgive the way they rob me
Of my childhood souvenirs

[Chorus:]
Memories they can't be boughten
They can't be won at carnivals for free
Well it took me years
To get those souvenirs
And I don't know how they slipped away from me

Broken hearts and dirty windows
Make life difficult to see
That's why last night and this mornin'
Always look the same to me

I hate reading old love letters
For they always bring me tears
I can't forgive the way they rob me
Of my sweetheart's souvenirs

[Chorus]

John, you're in good company



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and a last one, that maybe captures this moment...


Well, maybe one more.


For further reading, I recommend-
A couple great articles written this past week, and one almost 50 years ago about John Prine.
The ebook, John Prine: In Spite of Himself by Eddie Huffman (2015). Here is the Kindle version for $13.99 that I just started reading yesterday and can't put down. Or, you can download an audio version from Audible (free with trial). (Again, thanks to Ken Forman for this recommendation.)

And, if you're inclined to want to take a deep dive that compares John Prine to the wit and wisdom of Mark Twain, read the 2005 Master of Arts thesis by Michael J. Ruwe,  It's a Big Old Goofy World View: John Prine as a Modern-Day Mark Twain (free pdf download).

Wishing you all the best, stay well my friends.