John Prine, one of America’s most cherished songwriters and folk artists, died on Tuesday following a battle with the coronavirus. He was 73.
A national outpouring of grief soon followed after news of his death was reported.
“Prine,” wrote Stephen L. Betts and Patrick Doyle for Rolling Stone, “who for five decades wrote rich, plain-spoken songs that chronicled the struggles and stories of everyday working people and changed the face of modern American roots music, died Tuesday at Nashville’s Vanderbilt University Medical Center.”
According to his family, the cause was complications related to coronavirus, or Covid-19.
I feel like John Prine has had an incredibly full life, with tons of musicians who have attributed their debt to him for decades. By dying he makes us all listen to his wisdom again.
RIP to a life well lived–may we listen to your wisdom now.
— emptywheel (@emptywheel) April 8, 2020
A legend in Nashville and among folk and alt-country music devotees, Prine was more revered than he was famous. According to Rolling Stone:
As a songwriter, Prine was admired by Bob Dylan, Kris Kristofferson, and others, known for his ability to mine seemingly ordinary experiences — he wrote many of his classics as a mailman in Maywood, Illinois — for revelatory songs that covered the full spectrum of the human experience. There’s “Hello in There,” about the devastating loneliness of an elderly couple; “Sam Stone,” a portrait of a drug-addicted Vietnam soldier suffering from PTSD; and “Paradise,” an ode to his parents’ strip-mined hometown of Paradise, Kentucky, which became an environmental anthem. Prine tackled these subjects with empathy and humor, with an eye for “the in-between spaces,” the moments people don’t talk about, he told Rolling Stone in 2017.
Prine playing “Sam Stone”, one of his early hits and best known songs about the Vietnam War:
“Beloved, of course, in the roots music community,” writes Hilary Saunders for No Depression, “Prine was also greatly respected around the world for his vivid, often humorous storytelling. Beginning with his 1971 self-titled album—a record that Rolling Stone dubbed one of the 500 greatest of all time, replete with classics like “Paradise” and “Angel from Montgomery”” — and through to his 2018 LP Tree of Forgiveness, Prine captured the simplicities and the complexities of the human existence in stark and stunning glory.”
Songwriting hero, John Prine, has passed at age 73 due to complications from COVID-19. He will be deeply missed pic.twitter.com/76DwBhcNV0
— cmt (@CMT) April 8, 2020
Heartfelt memories and condolences spread on social media in the wake of his death:
John Prine’s genius as a songwriter is that he could be the funniest and the saddest guy in the room, sometimes simultaneously. I wish I could hear the song he would’ve written to put this moment in perspective.
— Steven Hyden (@Steven_Hyden) April 8, 2020
Coronavirus has taken one of the great ones: John Prine, dead at 73. So many memorable songs.
— Stephen King (@StephenKing) April 8, 2020
The great folk singer and songwriter, John Prine, passed away today due to the coronavirus. So many great songs. Here’s one about the loneliness of growing old and a plea for us not to ignore our elderly.
“Hello in There”. Please watch…https://t.co/HvdpTuMprS
— Michael Moore (@MMFlint) April 8, 2020
RIP John Prine. Thanks for being so much more than we could ever deserve.
— Dawes (@dawestheband) April 8, 2020
Besides being a great songwriter, @JohnPrineMusic was defined by his empathy, his humor, his humanity. In interviewing him, I always felt like I was sitting down with an old friend: https://t.co/5K4nnQ2K7j
— Greg Kot (@gregkot) April 8, 2020
While no shortage of great songs in Prine’s repetoire, this writer (digging out one of the most memorable and impressive performances of Prine’s from a concert many years ago) picks Lake Marie:
And the song goes: “Standing by peaceful waters….Standing by peaceful waters. Ohhh why oh, why oh.”
And the song ends, but not without a fight and a riveting bit of guitar, like this: “Ahhhh baby, we gotta go now. We gotta go now.”