The world has lost a true giant in John Prine. An extraordinary singer-songwriter and an even more incredible person, Prine touched the hearts, minds and souls of so many people with his music, wisdom and kindness. His influence extends across all genres of music and to any artist who ever wanted to take songwriting seriously. In his “prime” he was never a big star in the conventional sense, but his music still shined brighter than many. The music of Prine has endured with fans and artists of all ages. Whether it be legends like Bob Dylan and Kris Kristofferson or modern day artists like Jason Isbell and Kacey Musgraves, his influence shines in all of their work.
While it’s never easy to say goodbye, it’s comforting to know that he got the proper recognition and spotlight he deserved in his final years. The Americana Awards showered him with numerous accolades and his final album The Tree of Forgiveness, which is absolutely incredible, was one of his biggest commercial successes and critical too. And then of course the Grammys honored him with a lifetime achievement award earlier this year. It was all long overdue for one of the truly great American songwriters.
But Prine of course was never one about awards and attention. It was always about the songs, hence why he’s often called the songwriter’s songwriter. He could have easily stuck it out with his major label Atlantic Records and had much more commercial success. But he instead chose artistic independence, starting his own label Oh Boy Records in the 80s. Nowadays being an independent artist is pretty common and encouraged in many circles. But this was much less common during this time. Many would consider it detrimental to building a career, as the only way to get attention and build a fanbase was through radio and TV and the way to do that was on a major label.
Prine beat the odds though of course, as he did so many times throughout his life. He constantly proved people wrong and he did it with the most humility and grace one can possess. And in the process, by being himself, he carved out an incredibly rich legacy and cultivated a deeply loyal fanbase. He did this all by not following the expected blueprint of success. He created a unique path of his own, perhaps the greatest achievement of his career.
That’s what I’m going to remember about John Prine: a pioneer who blazed a trail for generations to come and he did it all by just being himself. Prine did this through not just his music, but through his actions and attitude towards those around him. Whether it be his fellow artists or those of us listening on our headphones, we all came away feeling like we didn’t just listen to an artist sing a song, but an old friend who always has an important message for any moment in our lives. John Prine will never be gone, as his empathetic, jovial spirit, and the evergreen wisdom and charming wit of his lyrics will forever keep him alive.
Rest in paradise, Mr. Prine. And enjoy smoking that cigarette that’s nine miles long.