Prine leaves behind lasting memory, music

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Associated Press

John Prine, country folk singer-songwriter, sits in his office in in Nashville in a 2017 file photo.

Colton Loeb, Columnist

On April 7, John Prine, a country-folk singer-songwriter, passed away due to complications related to COVID-19.

Prine made a stop in DeKalb for NIU homecoming in 1975 while on his American tour. Prine’s 1975 album “Common Sense” had just reached No. 66 on the charts just five months before his performance in May 1975.

Robert Brandfass, a long time fan of Prine, attended his first-ever Prine concert at NIU Homecoming, sparking his lifelong love affair with John Prine.

“It was my second concert ever,” Brandfass said. “My first concert was a doozy, it was Bob Dylan and The Band in ‘74, John Prine was a strong second.”

In 1975, Brandfass’s older brother Kirk Brandfass was attending NIU, as well as his sister. His brother brought him to the concert.

“There was a raised stage, we were on the floor,” Robert said. “and just like John we weren’t feeling any pain.”

Robert expressed his love for Prine’s music and said that Prine seemed like a genuine person.

“I’ve been a Bob Dylan fan my whole life,” Robert said. “ I don’t think he’s a nice guy, I don’t want to go have a drink with Bob Dylan, I feel pretty comfortable with that conclusion.”

Robert said the difference between Dylan and Prine is the connection he felt.

“It’s really hard to explain,” Robert said. “Never met him, never spoke to him but he felt like a personal friend. He felt like a regular decent human being.”

All over the nation, people are connected with Prine and his music.

In 1971, just four years before Prine’s NIU visit, he had released his self-titled debut album. He and close friend Steve Goodman, American folk singer-songwriter, had both been active in the Chicago folk scene before being discovered by Kris Kristofferson, Country Music Hall of Fame inductee.

Onstage at the Bitter End in Greenwich Village, when introducing Prine, Kristofferson once joked, “John Prine is so good we may have to break his thumbs.” Kristofferson, being a songwriter himself, stoked light-hearted competition with Prine.

Prine’s writing style earned him the title “the Mark Twain of songwriting.” His simplicity and heartfelt lyricism ensured his long successful career, lasting from 1970 to 2020.

Prine released 18 studio albums and five live albums during his career. He amassed 11 Grammy nominations, receiving two Grammy Awards as well as a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

Prior to starting his music career, Prine served in the U.S Army during the Vietnam War. He was stationed in Germany. On his debut album, his song “Sam Stone” talks about post-war drug addiction. On the same album, his song  “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore,” expresses anti-war sentiment as an act of performative patriotism.

Serving in the military and performative patriotism is something Prine shared with country music legend Johnny Cash.

Cash wrote in his autobiography “Cash” that he didn’t listen to much music when at home. However, when he needed inspiration he would play something by artists he admired. Artists like Prine.

Prine had his fair share of obstacles in life. In 1998, Prine was diagnosed with squamous cell cancer on the right side of his neck. He had extensive surgery to remove a large portion of tissue, followed by radiation treatments.

“His voice changed fairly dramatically [after his battle with cancer],” Robert said. “I remember seeing him after that and it was dramatic, but it was still John Prine. He delivered all his witticisms, his humor, and his insights.”

In 2005, Prine became the first singer/songwriter to read and perform at the Library of Congress. The Library of Congress is not only a collection of books but stands for the cultural history of our nation. As a folk musician and poet; it is a great honor to be chosen to perform at the Library of Congress.

Bob Dylan said that Prine was one of his favorite writers, according to a 2009 Huffington Post interview.

“Prine’s stuff is pure Proustian existentialism,” Dylan said in the interview. “I remember when Kris Kristofferson first brought him on the scene. All that stuff about ‘Sam Stone’, the soldier junkie daddy, and ‘Donald and Lydia’, where people make love from ten miles away. Nobody but Prine could write like that.”

Many people know Prine as an outstanding songwriter and musician. He has been praised by country and folk royalty like Cash and Dylan, leaving behind an extensive collection of music and accomplishments.

He emulated the emotions of a healing nation, sent spinning after the Vietnam war.

Geniuses like Prine’s couldn’t be ignored and will live on in his artful lyricism.

Prine is survived by his wife, Fiona Whelan and his three sons Tommy, Jack and Jody.