On Sunday, following the news of John Prine’s hospitalization due to COVID-19, Joan Baez posted a moving performance of his classic song “Hello In There.”
“I want to sing a song for John Prine and his wife, Fiona,” Baez said in the video. “John is in critical condition on a ventilator from COVID-19 and his wife has also been tested positive. John, this song that I’ve sung of yours has been one of the most requested songs in my repertoire for over 40 years. So let me sing it to you and send along my best wishes and prayers.”
Prine has undoubtedly cemented his position as one of the titans of songcraft. A brilliant, honest wordsmith, his canon of songs has become synonymous with the ethos of Americana and American music as a whole.
Baez is one of countless artists who has covered Prine. Originally recording it for her 1975 album, Diamonds & Rust, “Hello In There” is a song that has followed Baez throughout her career. When her farewell tour stopped in Nashville in 2018, Baez was able to perform “Hello In There” directly to Prine, who was sitting near the front row of the Ryman Auditorium’s balcony that night.
A lyrical masterpiece, perhaps the humanist sentiment of “Hello In There” is what the world needs amid the COVID-19 pandemic:
“We had an apartment in the city,
Me and Loretta liked living there.
Well, it’d been years since the kids had grown,
A life of their own left us alone.
John and Linda live in Omaha,
And Joe is somewhere on the road.
We lost Davy in the Korean war,
And I still don’t know what for, don’t matter anymore.
Ya’ know that old trees just grow stronger,
And old rivers grow wilder ev’ry day.
Old people just grow lonesome
Waiting for someone to say, ‘Hello in there, hello.’
Me and Loretta, we don’t talk much more,
She sits and stares through the back door screen.
And all the news just repeats itself
Like some forgotten dream that we’ve both seen.
Someday I’ll go and call up Rudy,
We worked together at the factory.
But what could I say if asks “What’s new?”
“Nothing, what’s with you? Nothing much to do.”
So if you’re walking down the street sometime
And spot some hollow ancient eyes,
Please don’t just pass ’em by and stare
As if you didn’t care, say, ‘Hello in there, hello.’”