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Word power: John Prine

There’s a hole in daddy’s arm where all the money goes,

Jesus Christ died for nothin’, I suppose.

Very rarely, a songster ambushes me, instantly demolishing all defences with just a few words.

44 years ago John Prine did it with Sam Stone, most especially the couplet quoted above, which is still one of the most potent I have ever heard.

I was then not quite 18 years old, in my final year of high school, hoping that I would not be “called up”.

Prine’s song depicts an American, back home,  shattered by the war in question.

Australians and Americans still call it the “Vietnam War”;  Vietnam remembers the “American War.”

Prine’s song is not about nomenclature.

Multi syllabic words are generally absent from his often seemingly-simple songs, as are self-congratulation, narcissism, misanthropy, nihilism and sloganeering.

Underline  “seemingly simple”.

Prine’s best songs are little masterpieces of concision, compassion and acute observation.

A recent New York Times Prine profile – part update, part overview – is equally rewarding for newcomers and longtime admirers.

Before you click here to read it, I suggest you see/hear this performance:





Published in music song lyrics songs, in English word power


  1. john obrien john obrien

    back in the 70’s a good friend RICHARD COLLINS turned me onto that John Prine song and i’ve never forgotten the impact of those incendiary lyrics.he sang it beautifully round the folkie clubs in’ve just brought it all back home.

  2. I read the NYT national edition irregularly here in Po’Town and missed this.
    Your appreciation of Prine’s songwriting prowess is especially welcome
    to me and I’m sure to Prine while he’s still with us. RESILIENT is an over-
    used word nowadays usually by those assessing the damage done by
    Crisis Capitalism in all its Neo-Liberal E-CON guises.

    But in Prine’s case, and I did not know he dealt with a 2nd cancer in 2013,
    RESILIENT is just the word. Only sorry his best Chicago bud Stevie Goodman
    (Z”L) didn’t get to be as RESILIENT and remain with us as John Prine has been able
    to. Those 2 could really crack wise like only old souls with the timing of seasoned vaudevillians and a re-generating world of new tragi-comic material can provide.
    I’ve forwarded your blog page and the heads-up to the linked i-view with Prine earlier this month in NYT.
    Most appreciatively,

  3. Amaris Delon Amaris Delon

    Thanks Doug. How would I ever come across music like this without your leads. Not too many songwriters today are addressing the hard sad truths, especially in such a sincere compassionate way.

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