John Prine is truly one of the greatest songwriters in recorded history. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: his debut album could stand alone as a collection of the greatest hits of the folk era. His stark stabs at vivid reality are painted with the simplest turns of phrase. A master of lyrics so poignant and yet so simple, John Prine speaks for everyman in a way that even Bob Dylan couldn’t. And these evocative lyrics are predominantly laid plain over just three simple chords (or, as Prine himself would say in the show this evening, “If it weren’t for the capo all these songs would be exactly the same.”).
I feel very fortunate to be sharing my time on Earth with John Prine, and as long as he’s touring I’ll be be buying tickets. On October 22nd, 2011 he came to the Centrepointe Theatre in Ottawa’s west end, though for some reason in my mind’s eye this show happened at the Shenkman Theatre, basically a mirror image of the Centrepointe out in Ottawa’s east end.
Regardless, I had great seats as John Prine and a fantastic guitarist by the name of Jason Wilbur sat on stage just a few feet away from me and played a beautiful set of remarkable music. I am unfamiliar enough with Prine’s work that I can still be surprised by brilliant songs I have not yet heard, like one he played at this show that he wrote for his ex-wife’s wedding, at the request of his ex-wife. “Be careful what you wish for,” he told her. This is a guy I could listen to for hours and hours, each song is like a little NFB film, nuggets of comedic and tragic glory wrapped up in rapturous, unforgettable vignettes.
Jimmy Rankin opened the show and he was lame with a capital ell. Fortunately, his set was the last thing in my mind as I exited the theatre swelling with bliss over having enjoyed yet another opportunity to share argons with the great John Prine, something I hope to do again and again, as long as we cohabitate this planet*.
*Edit to add: Reading this sentence makes me quite sad, as this was in fact the last time I saw John Prine (1946-2020). Stupid covid.