Below is an excerpt from my anti-memoir memoir All of Me. This story recounts my first ‘meeting’ with singer/songwriter John Prine.
Well, it was not really a meeting. It was circa 1971 in Toronto, Canada and I was a young (very young) music journalist and although the interview could not be termed an actual ‘success,’ it was never-the-less one of the highlights of my writing career.
Prine was, and is, a constant fixture in my music world for most of my life.
I was a punk kid working freelance for a punk music magazine. Not punk like we use the term now. It was another time and place.
I had been sent by the magazine to do my first ‘big’ interview and article. Well, it was big for me. John Prine had recently released a ‘folk’ album that was doing very well. The singer/songwriter was not a superhero or anything, but he was playing a major hall and doing it solo. That was pretty unusual in those days. Guitar – vocal.
And he was my hero. Well, my musical hero. Right after Dylan, of course.
Prine was to become the first of many singer/songwriters who would be hailed as The Next Dylan but he was having none of that. He was writing completely different songs. A former postman, he had a real knack for capturing the small moments in lives that might otherwise have passed unnoticed.
He was not handling his new-found-fame very well, even if it was still fairly obscure by most standards.
Still, the feel in the hall that night was one of Great Expectation. There was a real buzz, the kind that comes from being in the right place at the right time. I’m talking about the audience. There were snotty old folks and tipsy youngsters like myself and we all knew we were pretty damn lucky to be a part of this party.
So being a ‘journalist,’ I had a pretty decent seat. I could see people looking at me, as if wondering how the hell this punk kid scored a seat in the first row balcony. Hell, I was thinking the same thing! The only thing missing, in my mind, was a Press Badge! That would have been it for me. I would have paid for one of those that night.
I had arrived at ‘the show’ early, expecting I would do my interview before the concert, but his handlers told me that The Star had arrived late for the sound check and they were trying to make up time. I knew what that meant: He was talking to real guys who had real press badges.
So that was fine. As much as I wanted to get the damn thing over with, I was just as happy to put it off as long as I could.
The stage was huge. But all we could see was a threadbare carpet, a back up acoustic and a microphone stand. And that was it.
So Prine came out finally and walked oh so casually to the center of the stage. He plugged in his guitar and jumped into the deep end. No life jacket. Nothing. Like I said – guitar/vocal.
It was magic. It really was. He was the folk anti-hero in blue jeans and crap shirt and guitar. And his ‘guests,’ the people who populated his songs. They were ‘strangers’ but they were still ‘known’ to all of us. Just regular people living regular lives.
Still, I found my mind wandering during the show. I just wanted it to end so I could get my bit in and write everything up and get on with the weekend.
The show did finally end and as I made my way down the long, long corridor leading to the green room I could not help but notice that the entire length of the corridor was lined with… empty beer bottles. I mean the entire way.
I thought this was rather odd. But it was my first time playing the role of Keen Reporter and I thought, maybe even in a solo show there might be tons of stage hands and a road crew and roadies to be liquefied.
I entered the green room and found my hero sitting on the couch. Well, sitting is not the right word. Sprawled might be a better description. I thought at once that perhaps he had consumed all those beers himself!
But the show must go on. I was determined to ask him my questions and leave him in peace. I approached him cautiously. Introduced myself. Sheepishly.
There was no reaction. None at all. Not a creature was stirring, not even a singer/songwriter.
I soldiered on. I told him how much I had enjoyed the show. Still nothing. I looked at his handler. He was busy lighting a cigarette. I wished I could do the same.
So I asked what influence The Carter Family had on his songwriting style. It was my Big Question. Everything else would flow from this question and answer.
The handler had seen enough. He quietly ushered me toward the door. He was whispering. I wanted to ask him why he was bothering. His charge could sleep through World War III.
I walked again down the long corridor, wishing as I went that I might find at least one bottle with at least some beer.
But it was not to be. I would have to end this day as I had started it – stone, cold sober.
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