Now Almost 50 Years Into An Iconic Career, All John Prine Wants Is One More Cigarette

Cultural Critic
04.03.18 3 Comments

Danny Clinch

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There are certain ways that we determine an artist’s reach or importance: record sales (though possibly not much longer), streaming statistics (though this is helpful for some genres more than others), tour grosses (ditto), and social media follows (strong ditto).

None of this matters when you talk about John Prine.

He’s never sold the most albums or concert tickets, and he’s certainly not a juggernaut in the streaming or social-media worlds. To understand why he has endured for nearly 50 years as one of the most beloved singer-songwriters ever, you have to rely on anecdotal evidence. You must point to actual human beings, rather than numbers, to understand the breadth of his impact. Which makes sense, given that Prine writes songs that sound like real people talking.

Kris Kristofferson (with an assist from Roger Ebert) discovered him. Bob Dylan memorized his songs before his first record came out. Johnny Cash counted him as one of his favorite songwriters. Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, and Steve Goodman hung out with him. Roger Waters borrowed one of his melodies for The Final Cut. Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, and Bonnie Raitt agreed to sing backup for him. And a long list of younger singer-songwriters worship him: Jason Isbell, Justin Vernon, Miranda Lambert, Sturgill Simpson, Kacey Musgraves, Conor Oberst, Jenny Lewis, Kurt Vile, and Jim James of My Morning Jacket, to name just nine.

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