Monday, February 20, 2006

"C'mon baby, spend the night with me"

Heartbreaker #2: Six O'Clock News by John Prine, best heard on John Prine Live.

I first heard John Prine when he played the mainstage at the Winnipeg Folk Festival in the early 90s. I knew of him thanks to some former roommates, who enjoyed his slanted take on things, and frequently played a worn-out "Best Of" cassette. Once a month, our room of fellas would phone up this houseful of girls we knew, and we'd take turns hosting a supper for each other. The customary habit was to dust off this Prine tape and slap it in the little stereo. Then, when the girls would enter the room, they could smirk or roll their eyes and say, "John Prine, huh?"

So you could say he was regarded with something approaching frat-boy humour. And to be fair to John, this best-of tape contributed in no small way to this misperception: he was suspiciously verbose during the live tracks, and prone to guffawing at his own jokes, which gave a song like Illegal Smile a dangerous air of authenticity. So, yes: the tape was played in my presence. But the first time I heard John Prine was at the Folk Festival, six years later.

He was the last of a stellar line-up that night. I was lying back and staring at the night sky (as Folk Festival attendees are wont to do) when he finally came onstage. He strummed a bit, then travis-picked an intro to his first song. I can't remember what it was, but when he started singing, I sat bolt upright. His voice had undergone an incredible change since he'd recorded the tape from my college days. I did a little math -- those songs were probably 20 years old by now. The drunken jester I'd expected to see had been replaced by a straight-forward performer with undeniable presence.

I can't recall the songlist from that night, but in my memory it hews closely to the songlist on John Prine Live. Six O'Clock News was close to the beginning of the concert, and when he sang the final verse, I was crying. It's a song about incest, confusion, misplaced desire and trying in vain to play the rotten hand that's been dealt you. In the space of two minutes, the listener is thrown into the song's tragic heart, with a girl, a father, Jimmy, and a town trying to make sense of it all.

Heartbreaker #1


DarkoV said...

A great addition is Mr. Prine. Sadness with an optimistic dab of humour.
...and the drum roll begins...
Another heartbreaking kind of guy who still wnats to wake up the next day would be Mr. Wainwright. Not the son, the dad.
Any possibility of a song from History, Loudon Wainwright's best album? (and, yes, yes, I know this is your list of heartbreakers, but isn;t audience participation a good thing).
There's The Picture, wherein Loudon observes:
"A brother needs a sister
To watch what he can do,
To protect and to torture,
To boss around—it's true;
But a brother will defend her
For a sister's love is pure,
Because she thinks he's wonderful
When he is not so sure.

In the picture there's a fender
Of our old Chevrolet
Or Pontiac—our dad would know,
Surely he could say;
But dad is dead and we grow old;
It's true that time flies by;
And in forty years the world has changed
As well as you and I"

or A Father and A Son, readable here, where Mr. Wainwright broods
"When I was your age I was a mess;
On a bad day I still am, I guess.
I think I know what you're going through;
Everything changes but nothing is new.
And I know that I'm miserable; can't you see?
I just want you to be just like me.
Boys grow up to be grown men
And then men change back into boys again.
You're starting up and I'm winding down;
Ain't it big enough for us both in this town?
Say it's big enough for us both in this town"

Heart-crushing, both.

Whisky Prajer said...

DV - dude, you really owe it to yourself and your reading public AND the Wainright clan to write a post on their musical charms. However, considerable as those charms might be, no-one from it will be appearing in the #1 slot, I'm afraid.

Cowtown Pattie said...

"Bewildered, bewildered..."
You have no complaint
You are what your are and you ain’t what you ain’t
So listen up buster, and listen up good
Stop wishing for bad luck and knocking on wood.
"Sigh-igned, Dear Abby"

John Prine is my favorite anti-hero.

And add Townes Van Zandt to the mix, please, of misunderstood musical geniuses.

Whisky Prajer said...

CP - John Prine should really have qualified for a mention in my earlier list of "chuckle-head songs", too. I guess his inclusion here is just my way of making up for his absence in the other.

Rob In Victoria said...

Funny - Hello In There from that album would probably have a place if I did a similar top ten list.

dan h. said...

I just noticed John is coming to my town in a couple of weeks. I think this is a sign that I should go see.