This letter first appeared April 8, 2020 in the Boston Globe §§
I did not know him well, not as well as I would wish. We worked together on a few occasions, ran into each other at a couple of gatherings. I knew him mainly, as did most of us, through his work, his songs.
He had me from “Angel from Montgomery.” Damn, that song was so strong, so true, it took your breath away. This in spite of the fact that there’s a guy singing, “I am an old woman, named after my mother. . .” It took about a tenth of a second to get over the, “Wait! He’s not an old woman!” bit and get swept away by the power of the story, get drawn into the picture he was painting. (Also, there was the part that it never seemed to even occur to him that he was not, in fact, an old woman, he understood and occupied that character so fully and empathetically.)
And then there were all the other shining gems that made us love him, the sideways, sometimes upside-down takes on life that had us smiling and singing along. Ways of looking at things that were new to the world but were expressed so forcefully and engagingly that you could not turn away — there was no choice in the matter, you had to love him.
No movie-star looks, no soaring tenor or dazzling guitar licks. He didn’t need them. He saw truths that had never occurred to us before, and offered them up in a brand-new, loving way that could not be denied.
Goodbye, John Prine. I am sadder than I have been in a long, long time.