The Singing Mailman
by Tony Tone
January 24, 2020

John Prine is the greatest songwriter of all-time. You’d be hard pressed to find a better debut record than his 1972 self-titled release. It is one of those rare albums that you can start and listen to in its entirety without skipping a track. John Prine was born in Maywood, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, and worked as a mailman before breaking into the music business. What is it with former postal carriers making drastic career changes?

Locally, I think of my friend Mark Mitchell, who left his post office job to start Contrary Brewing Company here in Muscatine. Can Mark carry a tune? I’m not sure–I’ll have to ask him and get back with you. I am still, after all, trying to convince Mark to name a brew in my honor. Perhaps naming one after John Prine makes more sense!

Speaking of him, let’s get back to John Prine. The lyrics to his songs paint vivid pictures. As I’m writing this column, on my iPhone his aforementioned “1972” plays in the background. “Hello in There” is track #3 and tells the stories of couples and the aging process. This song gets me every single time. It has to be because I felt like I blinked my eyes and I went from 16 to 36-years-old.

Prine closes that song with a verse that I’ve quoted in this very space before, “So if you’re walking down the street sometime, And spot some hollow ancient eyes, Please don’t just pass ’em by and stare, As if you didn’t care, say, ‘Hello in there, hello.”’ I hear those lyrics in my head most days. I come across so many people in my line of work and I am compelled to say, “hello in there,” because I feel we as a society don’t communicate enough.

Certainly, John Prine has a vast catalog of music, and you should dive headfirst into all of it, including his 2018 release, “The Tree of Forgiveness.” I was fortunate enough to see John a few years back at the Adler Theatre and the show was beautiful. Mr. Prine is 73, has survived throat cancer (amongst other things), and is still making the world a better place one guitar pluck at a time.

I love music and respect people that can make it. Music has been my friend all my life and will continue to be. I’ve told you before about the first time I listened to the band Cream sitting inside the Maize Library in my hometown of Oak Park, Illinois. I had a similar experience listening to John Prine. I recall thinking how can these “stories” work so well as songs?

Prine covers so many topics on the release from “1972,” ranging from Vietnam War veterans “Sam Stone,” to a woman stuck in a toxic relationship struggling to leave “Angel from Montgomery.” This is why I’m a firm believer and supporter of the arts and music in our schools. You never know when the next John Prine may pick up the guitar. Happy listening and many thanks to John!

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