Behind the Meaning of “Donald and Lydia” by John Prine

John Prine‘s lyrics are beloved the world over. Prior to his death in 2020, Prine created some of the most cherished stories in Americana music. Though it’s hard to pick a favorite Prine song, we’re partial to the off-kilter love story of “Donald and Lydia.” Uncover the meaning behind this ballad, below.

Videos by American Songwriter

[RELATED: Behind the Meaning of John Prine’s “I Remember Everything”]

Behind the Meaning of “Donald and Lydia” by John Prine

Small town, bright lights, Saturday night
Pinballs and pool halls flashing their lights
Making change behind the counter in a penny arcade
Sat the fat girl daughter of Virginia and Ray

Many of Prine’s songs are character pieces. In “Donald and Lydia” he created some of his most poignant characters. Prine had a way about taking seemingly inconsequential stories and making them powerful paradigms for life.

“In most of the ballad stuff I do I try to use a chorus like a needle and thread, to pull the song together,” Prine once said. “A lot of times I’ve written just with the idea of experimenting. ‘Donald and Lydia’ – I had no idea what I was going to write about, but I knew how I was going to set the song up. I was going to set it up character by character.”

He kicked off the song by introducing Lydia, a quiet girl who spends her Saturdays alone. In the second verse, he pulls in Donald, a young soldier. Both of them struggle with love and are resigned to dreaming about the idea of it.

Hot love, cold love, no love at all
A portrait of guilt is hung on the wall
Nothing is wrong, nothing is right
Donald and Lydia made love that night

It isn’t until the bridge that Prine revealed the kicker: When they was finished, there was nothing to say / ‘Cause mostly they made love from ten miles away. Despite aligning these two characters (giving the listener the impression that they are fated to fall in love) Prine let this story be a somber one. In the end, they are still stuck dreaming about love instead of experiencing it.

Revisit this Prine classic, below.

Photo by Rich Fury/Getty Images

Leave a Reply

Bret Michaels will appear in the upcoming hair metal documentary series.

New Documentary Series Will Tell the “Uncensored” Story of ’80s Hair Metal

French Singer/Songwriter Pomme Covers Dolly Parton’s “Coat of Many Colors,” Plants ‘Roots’ in New York City During First U.S. Tour