It’s invaluable, really, feeling understood, because there are a lot of moments in life when feeling understood is everything. To feel understood is to feel known. To feel known is to feel valued. And though I have limited understanding of such things, I think that’s what love is. When we feel understood, known, and valued, we feel loved.
That’s why we need art so badly, because the best art makes us feel understood and known. And at those things, John Prine was a master. He made us feel valued and loved, because he knew we needed to feel understood.
He knew that I needed to hear “That’s why last night and this mornin’ always look the same to me.” He knew I needed a line that described my loneliness in a way that let me know I wasn’t the only lonely one. He had felt it too.
He knew I needed to hear “How the hell can a person go to work in the morning and come home in the evening and have nothing to say.” He knew I needed a line that would burrow into my chest and remind me that disappointment and disconnection wasn’t something I alone saw as a child, and it wasn’t something that I alone would experience as a woman. He had seen it and experienced it too. And he wrote that feeling in a way that pierced my ribs so it would never leave me.
He knew so many things, I think, and whether he was born knowing them or he stumbled upon them somewhere on his journey among the rest of us doesn’t matter. He was made of the deepest earth and the twinklingest stars. He was simply magical, and magically simple.
There are people in the world who hear a seemingly simple line of a song or a poem or a piece of prose and say, “I could do that,” not understanding that the simplest way is the best and often hardest way to say something. Well, not only could they NOT do what he did, they WOULDN’T. And that’s the difference. And that’s how I know he loved us. Because he knew what he knew, and he gave it away. And he did it for fifty years. I’m so glad we loved him back as well as we were able.
I wonder — who will sing about the extraordinary emotion that lives inside ordinary life for us now?
We will never be the same, especially not in this town that loves to call itself Music City. But also not in Maywood, Illinois, and not in Tempe, Arizona, and not in Bellingham, Washington, and not in New York City, and not in any 1,200 square foot house that a couple has been living in for forty years, and not inside a pickup truck en route from a factory to a bar on a cold Wednesday evening, and not in the kitchen sitting at the table wondering how we’re gonna make all the ends meet. We will never be the same, not anywhere.
But we still have his songs to remind us just how tragically and frustratingly beautiful we can be, even when we’re just being regular old humankind. He made all of this humanity a little bit less confusing, didn’t he?
Godspeed, JP. You weren’t a peckerhead, and you certainly aren’t now. Thank you for understanding us so well.
Peace and love and a helluva Wednesday, y’all.