Oregon Music News: Oregon’s all-genre music magazine since 2009


Commentary: Thoughts on the passing of John Prine

By SCOTT CUNNINGHAM // Our heroes become beacons and today John Prine shines brighter than ever

Watching our heroes die is rough.

I was reminded of that again last night when I first saw the news of John Prine's passing from complications related to Covid-19. From the moment I heard that his wife had contracted the illness several weeks ago, I knew it was a possibility that Prine, 73, could also fall ill.

Then came the news that he had, indeed, been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus and had been hospitalized. A couple days later he was placed on a ventilator and had developed pneumonia in both lungs.

At some level I knew I should start preparing an obituary with the obligatory information about his life and career. Like how he started writing songs while in the Army and continued as a mail carrier before starting to perform them live in Chicago's thriving folk scene in the early 1970's. Roger Ebert, that Roger Ebert, wrote the first review Prine received and it was an eloquent foretelling of the genius Prine possessed.

However, at a deeper level, I discovered some resistance to preparing my thoughts about his potential passing in advance. For me, writing is deeply personal and my best words come in the moment when I'm most connected to that which I'm writing about.

And that's how I found myself last night struggling to figure out what approach to take to share the news of his death. My first response was to write a small post on our Facebook page. Based on the response to my first story about his hospitalization, I knew we had a lot of Prine fans amongst our readers and we had to get the news out in a timely manner.

Beyond that I was stuck, so I became curious about why I was stuck and why his death had hit me like a gut punch. It didn't take long to figure out that it was because I see him as one of my heroes.

Prine possessed that rare ability to distill scenes of life into a few short verses in a way that brought the words so vividly to life that is was like you were immersed in the very scenes he sung about. At his absolute best, his songs felt like they were about your own life because they were.

He was one of the good guys, too, possessing a level of humility and genuineness that very, very few people have. Despite being at the absolute top of his career, those traits never, ever wavered.

It is tempting to say we lost John Prine yesterday, but I don't think that's really true.

Part of what makes the passing of our heroes like Prine so tough is that it reminds us of our own mortality. Heroes aren't meant to live forever, none of us are, and that's a jarring realization.

But we go on for precisely the reasons we select our heroes in the first place: They inspire us, they touch us, they lift us up.

Heroes become beacons, lighting the way to navigate through our own lives and mortality.

John Prine's light shines brighter today than it ever has and for that I will be forever grateful.

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Tim Malenosky

Well said. Just what I too am feeling.... Happy Enchilada

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