Behind the Song Lyrics: “Please Don’t Bury Me,” John Prine

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Videos by American Songwriter

In “Please Don’t Bury Me” lyrics, John Prine is reflecting on his own death singing Please don’t bury me / Down in the cold cold ground / No, I’d rather have ’em cut me up / And pass me all around / Throw my brain in a hurricane / And the blind can have my eyes / And the deaf can take both of my ears / If they don’t mind the size.

Off Prine’s 1973 album Sweet Revenge, the story, and lyrics are all the more poignant now, following the death of the singer and songwriter in 2020, but addressing death and the afterlife was no new subject for Prine, who later penned the “He Was In Heaven Before He Died,” off his fourth album Common Sense in 1975, a song inspired by the death of his father four years earlier, or the many mortal recollections on his final album Tree of Forgiveness (2018), inspired by his surviving cancer in 1998 and again in 2013.

Not as somber as these subsequent songs, when Prine originally wrote the song at the age of 27, there was some more levity behind the more toe-tapping song. “Don’t Bury Me” offered another picture of the end and his idea of life after death.

“That song was originally about this character I had in mind called Tom Brewster,” said Prine. “He dies but he wasn’t supposed to, like that scene in those old movies. The angels have to send him back, but they can’t the way he is. So they send him back as a rooster, which is why his name is Brewster.”

Prine added, “I ended up trashing that whole part and came up with this idea of the guy just giving all of his organs away, and I made a whole song out of that. It’s the best organ donor campfire song I know of.”

Pondering his idea of the afterlife, Prine sets the scene of his own fabricated demise right from the start.

Woke up this morning
Put on my slippers
Walked in the kitchen and died
And oh what a feeling!
When my soul went through the ceiling
And on up into heaven I did ride
When I got there they did say
John, it happened this way
You slipped upon the floor
And hit your head
And all the angels say
Just before you passed away
These were the very last words
That you said

Please don’t bury me
Down in the cold cold ground
No, I’d rather have ’em cut me up
And pass me all around
Throw my brain in a hurricane
And the blind can have my eyes
And the deaf can take both of my ears
If they don’t mind the size

Photo: Danny Clinch

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