Smile Politely

The key to escape reality

Blow up your TV, throw away your papers
Move to the country, build you a home

Plant you a garden, eat a lot of peaches
Try and find Jesus, on your own

Sometime around a decade ago, I had my first John Prine experience when I heard “Spanish Pipedream” on a public radio station in Ohio. I can’t honestly say that my life was forever changed, but that moment was definitely bracing. To hear Prine boil down the ephemeral nature of ’60s counterculture into real, practical acts was a complete thrill. It was if he was saying, “Forget all that hippy-dippy crap. Once you’re serious about this thing, here’s what you’re going to want to do.” 

Now, more than four decades after his career began, Prine is coming to the Virginia Theatre on Friday evening, April 13. As of Wednesday afternoon, there were still some tickets available to the show, which are available for purchase here. They’re kind of spendy, at $49.50 for balcony seating and $59.50 for main-floor, but hey, it’s definitely a better value than the $50 I dropped for Dylan tickets at Assembly Hall in 2010. 

Prine emerged from Maywood, Illinois, at the age of 25 as a fully-formed singer-songwriter. His 1971 eponymous debut album was so good, the aforementioned “Spanish Pipedream” is probably only the fourth or fifth-best song on it, IMHO, after “Angel from Montgomery,” “Paradise,” “Far from Me,” and probably “Sam Stone.” His initial rise to prominence wasn’t followed by any sort of meteoric peak, but Prine’s continued to make music and tour for the majority of the ensuing 40 years, injecting sly humor and cutting observations into his unassumingly devastating songs. When he says, “You know, she still laughs with me, but she takes just a second too long,” I know exactly what he’s talking about, and you probably do, too.

And sometimes, he’s just silly, and that’s often enough.

Early recordings of many of the songs from John Prine and Diamonds in the Rough, as well as a bunch of early live recordings, have been collected and released on Prine’s Oh Boy record label, titled The Singing Mailman Delivers.

After being turned down for an interview with Prine, I received a download of this album as a consolation prize from his management, and I must admit that I am consoled. It’s got all the early classics, and after wearing out the grooves on my copy of John Prine, I have no problem with hearing some different versions of those songs. Did you know that Roger Ebert was the first journalist to write a review of a Prine show? It’s true. And to judge by the enthusiastic — but — sparse responses to several of the live songs, chances are good that Ebert didn’t have to fight his way through a crowd of more than 50 or so people at that show. 

That hasn’t been the case for some time, and it surely won’t be the case on Friday night. If you have the time and the cash to spare, get thee to the Virginia.

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