Goin' Down to See John Prine
©2002 Andrew Calhoun, recorded on Tiger Tattoo.
My folks did not go out much, not even a movie,
And Folk was politic back then, Protest and "Feelin' Groovy":
We lived out in the suburbs, it was a special thing
When they drove into Chicago to hear a mailman sing.
That next week, they took my sister, one week later, they took me.
I got a stamp on the back of my hand and I saw my destiny;
Just an ordinary mailman with a gift for stringin' words,
Who wrote and sang the greatest songs that we had ever heard.
And every song was different, and every time was new,
And every other month or so, he'd write a song or two;
With mugs of coke and peanuts, in the musk and cigarettes,
We'd sit through rock star wannabes, to hear John's second set:
"Hello In There," and "Paradise," and "Flag Decal" again;
And one he never did record, "Will Anybody Be My Friend?"
Will anybody be my friend?
At Glen Ellyn Junior High School, the guys called me a fag;
My homeroom teacher called me out, I wouldn't pledge the flag.
There was Johnny Cash on Wednesday nights, to make life worth the time,
Waiting for the weekend, goin' down to see John Prine.
On Christmas, there was no one, at the old 5th Peg's back room,
But our family and one couple, listening in the gloom;
Then I called out a favorite song, John stopped his show and smiled
At me in growing silence there, I felt like heaven's child;
It's a blessing I would carry, through trouble, dread and tears,
And I gave John a pocket knife that he kept for luck for years.
With two full sets, and sometimes three, each night a double bill,
Everybody knew the reason that black room began to fill;
With a feature in the Daily News and two in the Sun-Times,
There were folks from every walk of life, goin' down to see John Prine.
And so it was a joyful thing, and sorry now because
It's just a ghost of memory, how beautiful it was
That songs so filled with loneliness could leave us less alone;
As if to love your neighbor were as easy as the phone.
He'd sing "A friend that's been turned down will be a friend of mine."
And strangers felt like family then, goin' down to see John Prine.
And so we all were happy, and happy for his sake,
When Goodman brought Kristofferson, to score John his big break;
We'd see him at the Arie Crown, up there where he belongs,
To think that now the hungry world would get to hear these songs.
And a few years on in Boston, we went down to see his show,
We waited in the hallway, but he couldn't say hello;
We saw him being interviewed, my sister Jane explained,
"That's all part of his job now, publicity's insane."
The critics raved, the drunkards roared, the groupies got in line,
It would never be the same, goin' down to see John Prine.
At the folkie's Sunday softball, for weeks they had it planned
That John would come to play a game with his entire band;
I had my year-old son there, we had brought him down to see
A man who just ignored him, and barely noticed me.
He was out of shape and shouting, like his good time wasn't real,
Then he headed out for a private thing with the boys in center field;
And I wished it didn't matter, and I wished I didn't care,
Just my tough luck to love someone who wasn't really there.
On a sunny summer afternoon, for me the game was blown.
Who'd believe this strung-out fool was the man who wrote "Sam Stone"?
At Rose Records store on Ashland, 1987,
It felt a mile awkward when I stopped in to see him;
A woman had her picture taken with him there and signed,
But it just made me nervous, goin' down to see John Prine.
And at his last accounting, there is bound to be a do,
With St. Peter and the Muses, and Montgomery's Angel too,
Saying, "Who's to speak for anyone, and who's to cast a stone
At one who eased our loneliness, but couldn't bear his own?"
And if I reach the pearly gates, when comes my time to go,
I hope St. Peter's not too busy to come out and say hello;
Will he sing "A friend that's been turned down will be a friend of mine."
Or stamp the back of my right hand—goin' down to see John Prine,
There in the gloom I will request my favorite songs again:
"Paradise", "Hello in There", "Will Anybody Be My Friend."
That's "Paradise", "Hello in There", "Will Anybody Be My Friend."