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  • Writer's pictureBill Stauffer

Gratitude Friday 04/7/23 A Mailman Who Made His Last Delivery

“I didn't expect to do this for a living, be a recording artist. I was just playing music for the fun of it and writing songs to ... that was kind of my escape, you know, from the humdrum of the world." – John Prine

If you wonder why I write this weekly gratitude post, you are not alone. Some weeks I wonder why I keep doing it as well. This week’s musing on gratitude helped me learn more about John Prine and to hold out hope for the rest of us. In looking into his work, I learned about a mailman with a dream of being a singer songwriter who touched so many of us with the gifts he had. His was the first pandemic loss that hit me. This week, I thought I would celebrate him, and also to sing the praises of people who follow their dreams and end up making all of lives richer. These are things at least to me worthy of reflection, and at the end of the day, this is one of the things I do to keep my soul singing. I write here to learn and for healing. I could do no better than note what NPR said about John Prine in his Obituary on April 7th 2020. They wrote “Bestowing dignity on the overlooked and marginalized was a common theme throughout Prine's career; he became known for detailed vignettes about ordinary people that illustrated larger truths about society. One of his signature songs, "Sam Stone," is an empathetic tale of a decorated veteran who overdoses because he has trouble readjusting to real life after the war.” It captures the era and the people who served that help us all understand what happened on a visceral level. John Prine was born in 1946. He was raised in a suburb of Chicago, was given a guitar by his older brother. He started writing songs at age 14, after spending a childhood listening to Buddy Holly, Johnny Cash Little Richard and Hank Williams Sr. He used to write songs while delivering the mail, which was how he earned a living. He wrote about themes of everyday life and troubles we all face. Much to my regret, I never got to see him play live. Much of his music I have learned of after his passing. To me, he incorporated all the things in his music that make it one of the greatest unifying and healing mediums we have. He died on April 7, 2020, at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, TN. Behind the Song: “Angel from Montgomery” , one of my favorites noted he almost co-wrote it with the late Eddie Holstein. As he recounted for American Singer Songwriter they were sitting around together and he asked Eddie about the idea of writing song about a middle-aged woman who feels older than she is. Eddie declined and Prine went home and wrote it that evening. My favorite version of the song is the one he sings with Emmylou Harris. The writing, the singing, the imagery. I confess to hitting replay on this song for many miles on my drives. I found a video of the House of Strombo show he did the year before he died with Gordon Lightfoot in the audience. What a gem of a show. He was telling stories singing and making people smile and laugh. During the show, he spoke about how he played Angel and Sam Stone (the two songs mentioned above) on his first set of an open mike at a venue in Chicago and the owner offered him a job at the end of his first ever performed set. He said he was complaining that everyone sucked, and someone suggested he get up and sing. The rest is American music history. He closed the Strombo show with “When I get to Heaven.” Selected lyrics below: From - When I Get to Heaven

Then as God is my witness I'm getting back into show business I'm gonna open up a nightclub called "The Tree of Forgiveness" And forgive everybody ever done me any harm Well, I might even invite a few choice critics Those syph'litic parasitics Buy 'em a pint of Smithwicks And smother 'em with my charm 'Cause then I'm gonna get a cocktail Vodka and ginger ale Yeah I'm gonna smoke a cigarette that's nine miles long I'm gonna kiss that pretty girl on the tilt-a-whirl Yeah this old man is goin' to town

I know I ended up repeating themes in these posts. This not the first one on John Prine, or even on people who change the world by being who they are and sharing it with the rest of us. He was one of those souls that burned bright. There seems few positive notes to hit in our world era, maybe one of the few things we can do is to celebrate people who help us see things around us differently and make us laugh and sing a little. He was one of those for me. Hey John, I hope to see you play at the heaven version of the Tree of Forgiveness someday.

Grateful for your work and that of all the artists that help make the human condition worth it all.

What are you grateful for today?

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