Cleveland Comhrá: Opportunities
by Bob Carney
I can’t recall the exact year, sometime in the early seventies, a friend played an album for me he had just purchased. A singer-songwriter, his lyrics could make you laugh or if you really stopped to think about them, in some instances would make you cry.
John Prine’s self-titled debut album released in 1971 revealed the scope of his writing ability that continued right up to his final album, “Tree of Forgivness,” released in 2018. That first album gave us “Paradise”, a song that would become an enviromental anthem for many.
“Angel From Montgomery” has been covered by countless musicians, a song written from the perspective of a woman stuck in an unloving marriage. He could see other’s point of view well enough that when he wrote a song you could feel the pain.
“Hello in There” written when John was a very young man, is an old man’s story of lonliness. Being the seventies, the two tunes that hit me the hardest were “Sam Stone” and “You’re Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore”.
“There’s a hole in daddy’s arm where the money goes” a line in “Sam Stone” a story of a Vietnam Vet that comes home with a purple heart and an addiction. PTSD had not even been recognized yet.
The second song was about misguided patriotism. John didn’t play this song for many years, but brought it back in recent years, citing the political climate that has arisen of late. These are only a few of the songs on that debut album.
After a stint in the army, where he served stateside, John went to work as a postman. People remember him being followed by children on his route, he’d give them rides in his mail bag. He’d been writing songs since he was fourteen and performed at small clubs and coffee houses in Illinois. One evening, Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert caught one of his shows.
Ebert’s headline, “Singing Mailman Delivers a Powerful Message in a Few Words,” would change John’s life. Prine’s friend and musical partner, Steve Goodman was able to convince Kris Kristofferson and Paul Anka to attend one of John’s performances, and with their introductions he soon signed his first record deal.
In 1988, John was in Ireland, where he met a Dublin recording studio business manager, Fiona Whelan. She returned to Nashville with him and they married in 1996. A small growth was discovered in John’s neck the following year, tests found it to be stage four cancer. A small tumor was removed altering his appearance and speech.
His future in music was doubtful, he didn’t think he’d ever sing again, but a year and half later he was back on the road. A spot on his lung was discovered in 2013 and six months after the cancer was removed he was performing again.
In April of this year, John Prine passed away at a hospital in Nashville from COVID19, leaving behind his wife Fiona, his family and millions of fans. Social media has been full of tributes from musicians of all genres whom he had affected. Many sharing personal stories of this talented, kind and humble man.
Originally, my thought for this column was to offer up the possibilities or opportunities we have before us now that we are trying to find a new normal. We’ve experienced every human emotion and shortcoming as a species we possibly could have in the past months. What now?
Do we embrace the positive things, the time with our children, the walks with our dogs, reaching out to our extended family or any of the other things we never seem to have time for? Or do we let our teachers and coaches raise our children as we rush to get back to work?
Will we look the other way as environmental protections are bypassed to build up the economy? Will we allow the pandemic to be used as an excuse to promote xenophbia? Are we capable of finding balance? I just keep thinking about what John would have written about our opportunity.
SÍOCHÁIN agus GRÁ