John Prine Died on This Day in 2020, But His Legacy of Joy Lives On

2020 was a hard year for nearly everyone. Looking back, it seems that everyone lost someone near and dear to their hearts to the ravages of the pandemic. Legendary singer/songwriter and all-around hero of country and Americana music, John Prine was among those losses. The widespread virus took Prine away from the world on this day in 2020.

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Prine might be gone, but his influence will outlive even his youngest fans. He inspired generations of artists with his witty songwriting that showed an unmatched ability to tap into the human condition. Few songwriters have the power to make listeners laugh, cry, and think within the space of a single song. Those who have the ability to do so today likely owe part of their prowess to The Singing Mailman.

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John Prine Was an Unmatched Songwriter

One of the first things that come to the minds of many fans when they hear Prine’s name is his ability to bridge the gap between plain language and poetry. There’s no denying that his catalog is full of self-penned songs that stand the test of time. For instance, tracks like “Paradise,” “Sam Stone,” and “Pretty Good” from his 1971 self-titled debut album are enduring classics and the perfect place to start for neophyte fans. Digging deeper into his discography, you’ll find gems like “Mexican Home,” “Christmas in Prison,” and the hilariously touching Iris DeMent duet, “In Spite of Ourselves.”

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Then, there are the songs he wrote or co-wrote for other artists. For instance, he co-wrote David Allen Coe’s “You Never Even Called Me by My Name” with Steve Goodman. He also wrote Bonnie Raitt’s timeless “Angel from Montgomery.” He co-wrote George Strait’s “I Just Want to Dance with You” with Roger Cook.

In a catalog full of expertly written songs that span the emotional spectrum, one stands out today. The posthumously released “I Remember Everything” was the final song he recorded before his passing. If you’re going to listen to one John Prine song today, this should be the one. Be warned, though, it’s tough to walk away from this one with dry eyes, especially today as we mark the passing of someone who brought immeasurable joy to the world with his craft.

Writing Strong Characters in Musical Movies

Many of Prine’s songs paint vivid pictures around fleshed-out characters. One of the strongest examples of this is “Angel from Montgomery.” He included the song on his debut album. However, it was Bonnie Raitt that made the song popular. The character at the center of the song is a middle-aged woman.

During an interview with American Songwriter, Prine said, “If you come up with a strong enough character, you can get a really vivid insight into the character that you’ve invented. You let the character write the song. You just dictate from then on,” he said. He added, “You stick to it, and whatever the character is saying, you have to figure out how to keep that in the song. … That’s how I do it. I almost go into a trance.”

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Later in the conversation, he said several people asked him how he felt he could write a “woman’s song first-person.” He found the question odd. “That never occurred to me, because I already considered myself a writer. And writers are any gender you want. You write from the character and how can you go wrong?”

John Prine Behind the Music

Prine grew up in Maywood, Illinois. Long before he introduced himself to the world with his stunning 1971 debut, he served in the US Army during the Vietnam War. He was a mechanic stationed in West Germany during the conflict. Before that, he worked as a mailman and resumed the role when he returned to the States after the war.

Prine wed three times. First, he married his high school sweetheart Ann Carole in 1966. They divorced in the late ‘70s. Then, he married Rachel Peer in 1984. They parted ways four years later. Then, he met Fiona Whelan who was his manager before moving from Ireland to the United States in 1993. They married three years later and were together until Prine passed in 2020. They had two sons together—Tommy and Jack. Additionally, he adopted Whelan’s son Jody.

A Lasting Legacy

John Prine passed away four years ago today. However, he never really left. He lives on in his music, the joy he spread, the artists he inspired, and the memories fans built around his songs.

In his latter years, Prine ended his shows with the song “Lake Marie.” As the band played the final instrumental break, he would step away from the microphone and dance like no one was watching, exuding pure joy. That is how fans should remember him—not just as a prolific and legendary songwriter but as a man who wanted to spread joy to those around him and anyone who wanted to listen to his message.

Featured Image by Rich Fury/Getty Images

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