Home' Rhythms Magazine : January-February 2019 Contents 26
>>> Are there any writers of prose, for
example, that you enjoy reading that
might inspire you, or are there other
writers? How does that inspiration work
for the songwriter?
Yes, when I was a teenager, I read a lot
of John Steinbeck. So, I don’t know if
that influenced my writing or if it was
just entertaining to me. But, I really liked
his voice. I liked the way the words fell
together. In songwriting, I always admired
Hank Williams Sr., and Bob Dylan, and
Johnny Cash, and Kris Kristofferson. I would
hope that some of the stuff they did rubbed
off on me.
From my observation, you tend to write
about things that happen around you. Is
it just incidents in your life that inspire
Yeah, I know. Sometimes, when I’m not
looking for it songs just pop up all around
me. I seem to think I’m a magnet for them. I
don’t know what it is.
You also have a really humorous way
of looking at the world. I know that my
favourites of yours should be some of
your serious songs, like ‘Sam Stone’, and
songs like that but, you know what one of
my favourite songs is?
In Spite of Ourselves?
No, it’s ‘Let’s talk Dirty In Hawaiian.’
Oh yeah, they really love that one in Hawaii,
I tell you. We made that, I wrote that
with a friend of mine, named Fred Koller.
And Fred, and I, we just made up all the
Hawaiian words we could, you know, in a
It always tickles my funny bone and it
kind of exemplifies the way you look at
the world. I think maybe the way you look
at the world is why you’ve stayed in music
for so long. I won’t say that you don’t
treat it seriously but you have a particular
humorous view of it.
Yes, I do, in general. I tend to see humour
in some things that other people don’t. The
human condition to me is usually humorous.
If you see a guy with a fender on his car
where he had an accident, they usually park
with that part sticking out, for people to hit
it. And that seems funny to me.
There’s [also] a beautiful song, ‘Summer’s
End.’ Can you tell us what inspired that?
There are a couple of songs along a similar
theme really, and that’s one of them, I
Well, I wrote that song with Pat McLaughlin,
the same fellow I wrote ‘Crazy Bone’ with.
Me and Pat, have written quite a few songs
together. Sometimes we’re able to finish
each other’s thoughts, or sentences. So, I’ll
just write, and then eventually Pat will come
back to me with one. We don’t really discuss
the subject we’re writing about, it just goes
back and forth, like a tennis match. I don’t
know, it just works out really well, when the
both of us write kind of what the meaning
of the words are, but also in, a melodic
way. At the end of the song, it all comes
out really nice when we aren’t pursuing a
particular subject, is what I’m trying to say.
Well some people might think that’s a
melancholy song in a way.
It is, very much so, yeah. I didn’t write the
chorus until about a month after we wrote
the song. The ‘come on home, you don’t
have to be alone,’ part, I didn’t write that
until a month after we wrote all the verses.
That’s what the song seemed to be saying
to me was, it is melancholy, for sure. Come
The other song I wanted to ask you about
– and the more I read the lyrics, the more I
get out of it – is ‘The Lonesome Friends of
Science,’ which has got a fascinating story
Yeah, I had a good one with that one. It was
basically, that I didn’t like the fact that a
group of scientists decided that Pluto was
no longer a planet. I mean, I never thought
we’d just wake up one morning, and demote
a planet from our solar system.
It was something I’d been thinking about
for quite a while. That, and the second verse
is about a statue in Birmingham, Alabama
pamphlet on the Vulcan. Over the years,
they let the thing really go to ruin. They
didn’t have the money to tear it down. So,
they used it for various things.
It was a huge statue, looking over the city
of Birmingham, Alabama. At one point,
they took the sword out of his hand, and
replaced it with a giant pickle. They wanted
it advertising pickles. Another time, they
had bib overalls on with checkers on, and he
was selling dog food. And this is a mighty
statue, that’s struck, I believe there’s a
lot of iron foundries around Birmingham,
Alabama. This was to celebrate this iron
city. I wanted to write about the humiliation
that the statue suffered over the years. And
the humiliation that Pluto suffered, when
told he was no longer a planet.
Well, you know John, some people
might say that this is a very timely song,
given that science is under attack in
certain places around the world, from
Yeah, I do know. Some people mentioned
it - that maybe I was talking about
climate change. But, I’m not at all. That is
something that’s real. And you know these
guys, they need to do better things than
demote planets from our solar system.
I mean how do you take this, I’m not sure
about there, but when I was in school,
it took me a long time memorise these
planets. And then four guys in a room, all of
a sudden tell me that one of them is not a
planet. I don’t want to believe that.
Well, I was particularly disappointed
because I went to the observatory in
Flagstaff, Arizona, which discovered
Pluto. So, I was devastated when I found
That was a wasted trip.
It was a completely wasted trip. Thank
you very much for that.
You’re welcome. Well, you should get your
Can I ask you about your relationship with
your songs that have been covered over
the years and have become classic songs.
You know, ‘Sam Stone’, ‘Angel from
Montgomery’, ‘Paradise’, they’ve been
covered a lot by other people.
Oh yeah. Pretty Good, too.
How do you feel about those songs now,
like I mean, I know you still perform some
of them. But what’s your feelings toward
They’ve been very good to me and I
enjoyed having other people do my songs.
Sometimes it read something else into
the song, that I didn’t previously think of.
It’s just that, I enjoy it. I got my favourites
you know, the Bonnie Raitt, doing ‘Angel,’
Elizabeth McGovern and Bette Midler
doing ‘Hello in There’. There’s a lot of blue
grass lyrics at the beginning of the song
I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of a fellow
named Jerry Williams Jr. His nickname is
Swamp Dogg. He does ‘Sam Stone’, and
he just kills it. He is so good when he does
it. He goes into a preacher thing at the end
where he spends about 10 minutes on the
homeless Vietnam veterans and it’s just
really good stuff.
John Prine is touring Australia in March.
The Tree of Forgiveness is available on
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