I don't ever think I have asked my father how he became a fan of John Prine and I probably should ask that question someday. Growing up though I always associated good times and happy feelings to my father putting on a John Prine record and singing and dancing with my mom on the living room carpet. Perhaps because I was in school most of the year and we had other obligations on most Saturdays but to this day, I always associate John Prine music to Sunday afternoons. To this day, I still get the urge to throw a John Prine CD on summer Sunday afternoons and when I do, I'm always happy.
I remember getting my first cassette tape when I was in high school when I traded a friend for his Dukes of Hazzard soundtrack cassette. Shortly after that I inherited a car from my parents when I got my license and it only had an 8-track player so I spent my efforts finding those ancient relics. When I moved to college, I joined one of those cassette clubs a couple times where I got about ten or eleven cassettes for free when I purchased one or two at regular price. About the time I filled up my cassette case with about 30 tapes, CD's came into the mainstream and I switched over to them.
I think it was the permanence of CD's, when compared to records or cassettes anyway, that made me purchase my father a John Prine CD for one of his birthdays. He liked it though it never sounded the same as the records which is how his mind and my mind associated to Prine. I think it was at this time, something clicked and I suddenly GOT Prine's music. I started buying some of his albums and pretty soon I had them all.
Being in college, I was plugged into the concert scene and could obtain tickets pretty easily. I got to see lots of concerts but one day I noticed that John Prine was going to be playing at the college theater, a much smaller venue than all the other concerts I had been too. I asked my parents if they would like to come up but they couldn't so I ended up going by myself. As it turned out, I was the youngest person in that room by at least a couple decades. Leo Kottke opened up the concert and played Vaseline Machine Gun. He also told a story of a man who watched his wife and children grow old and move on while he rotted away in a prison unbeknownst to them right across the street. The song about that story brought me to tears. I also became a Kottke fan that night.
When John's turn came, he strode up on stage with a cigarette and a bottle of beer and I remember thinking he looked ancient at the time. Once his concert had started however, I was lost in a trance and cared not of how young I was compared to the others in the hall or how old John looked. I just loved his music and unlike a CD, hearing it live gave me the same satisfaction as listening to it on my dad's old record player. After the final encore, the crowd filed out but I stayed in my seat to savor the moment for awhile longer.
Actually I had another motive in mind. Several months ago I was thinking about something to give my father for his birthday and I thought it would be nice to give a newly released John Prine Anthology album to him and that it would be even better signed by the man himself. After doing some research, I read on some obscure forum that John will often meet with fans after the concert in his dressing room, no passes necessary. I thought it sounded too good to be true but after the last people filed out and the roadies were well on their way to breaking down the set on stage, I got up and walked around to the side of the stage that I had seen John disappear too. There was a door there and a few people standing outside it. I joined them and we stood there for about 20 minutes when a security guy came up to us and asked what we were doing. I nervously said that I had heard that John meets with his fans after the concert and I had an album cover I would like him to autograph. The security guy said that was cool but asked us to stand down the hallway around the corner until John was ready. We shuffled off and waited.
Probably 10 minutes later, another guy came and got us and ushered us into John's dressing room. John was sitting there in a chair with a fresh beer and a cigarette and gestured for us to come over to him. We all did and were able to spend about 20 minutes talking with the man and getting things signed. The other people had John sign his autograph on some random scraps of papers or playbills. When I pulled two CD album covers out of my jacket pocket for him to sign, a murmur of wistfulness went through the other fans. John seemed to really like the initiative and while the others got autographs, he personalized both of mine. He signed one for my father and one for me, which I still have to this day.
His self titled album remains my favorite to this day mostly because it was the one my father used to play on sunny Sunday afternoons when he was having a good day and dance with my mom on the living room floor. I also like Souvenirs because John sings some of his classics in a now much older voice that is scratched with time and reminds me more of an old well played record. Most of the other albums I would play selected songs that resonated with me from time to time until smart phones and their ability to function as a personal music device came along. Now I have my own John Prine playlists that I can listen too, especially on sunny Sunday afternoons when I'm feeling good.