A Lesson from John Prine

I’ve been thinking of John Prine these past couple of days. I suspect many of you have as well.

I grew up in a house full of music. I had significantly-older siblings who listened to great music. My mother listened to folk music. My father listened to classical and opera. Sometimes he played it on the piano, mostly when it was time to go somewhere and he was waiting for us to finish getting ready (instead of sitting in the driveway honking the horn and shouting, “Let’s go, people!”).

I was twelve when somebody brought home Bonnie Raitt’s “Sweet Forgiveness” album and I heard “Angel From Montgomery” for the first time. It was magical. I can’t say when I realized it was written by John Prine, a man. “But,” I thought, “it says right at the beginning that ‘I am an old woman.’ How did he…?” I had the same trouble with James Taylor’s “Millworker” (‘and I, his only daughter’) when I was fourteen. And I remember the moment I realized that as songwriters, these guys (and likely others) weren’t restricted to writing from their own first-person perspective. They could be other people. That’s a lesson I think of every time I sing “Angel From Montgomery.”

Sure, they say: “write what you know.” Well, I’m certain that John Prine knows that old woman’s life.

Leave a Reply