On April 7 we lost John Prine to the COVID-19 virus. I don’t usually pay much attention to celebrities when they die, and truth be told, he never really felt like a celebrity in the sense that most others do. He was a brilliant writer. His voice fit him. He had the best voice for the words he penned. But first and foremost, to me he was the consummate poet. In his lyrics he spoke volumes. There won’t be another John Prine.
When someone of his character passes as artists we sometimes call upon ourselves to take stock and assign value to our own work. I’m pretty sure I can make a point by putting some words together, but I’ll never claim to be a great writer. I am also not someone that needs to hear praise from others, nor do I expect it to rain down when I’ve created something I value. Frankly, when I like something I’ve written that is satisfaction enough. And I know when something I’ve put on paper is shit.
I’ve received a number of compliments lately for my work, but it is the unintentional accolade veiled by a seemingly random comment about my writing that sticks to me the most. The book that I recently released about my transition from female to male has generated some interesting feedback. Yesterday I received a call from the surgeon who performed my top surgery. She said that she enjoyed the book, loved the way it was written, and even found herself wanting to meet someone I’d written about based on the words I’d used to include them as part of my journey. A high compliment indeed.
In similar fashion, a few weeks ago I’d received a text from one of my closest, long-time friends. She had read the book and while she made me promise that the next thing I write gets sent to her for editing, there were three stories I shared in the book that made her cry. I had not even considered that she’d react that way – except for the editing comment, of course. An even higher measured accolade…if we’re measuring. And, for the record, I did promise that she could edit my next and all future projects.
Both responses spur writing new material. I’m getting better at just sitting down and doing the actual “work” of writing. I’ve never been one who needs to “wait for inspiration” or has to hunt down my muse for any art I create. Often I can coax stronger work from myself when I wait until the last minute to meet a deadline. But even then it is by forcing the ideas that I uncover what I need. A couple of months ago a reader of mine called me the country Hemingway. A lofty title that I can only dream of wearing.
I’ve been alternating between the early stages of a new writing and illustration project and reading back to back Hemingway short stories. I’ve considered Prine the Hemingway of lyrics. To know that neither will ever create anything new; that we may have heard all of the words they had to give, may be more heartbreaking than their physical loss. But we do have their words and we can take a word from here and there and piece together something that holds meaning. And we can live with that in as much as words can give life.
Rest now, Mr. Prine.