John Prine wrote and sang simple, soulful songs that ranged from deeply and painfully poignant to wonderfully whimsical. He’s been in my heart and mind since I first heard his debut album back in the early 70’s.
One of my favorite ad-libs from any performer came when I saw him in 1973. He started one song but his voice cracked on the first note, so he stopped, coughed and cleared his throat, saying, “I need a capo for my throat,” and started the song over.
Let’s listen to some of what John sang us with this trio of tunes about death and Heaven written and recorded at intervals throughout his long career.
Please Don’t Bury Me (1973)
Please don’t bury me down in the cold, cold ground —
No, I’d rather have them cut me up and pass me all around…
Throw my brain in a hurricane
And the blind can have my eyes.
And the deaf can have both my ears
If they don’t mind the size.
Fish & Whistle (1988)
Father, forgive us for what we must do.
You forgive us and we’ll forgive you.
We’ll forgive each other till we both turn blue
Then we’ll whistle and go fishing in Heaven.
When I Get to Heaven (2018)
John Prine’s final song on his final album set the scene perfectly for his departure — and arrival in the Afterlife.
Gonna have me a cocktail,
Vodka and ginger ale,
Gonna smoke a cigarette nine miles long.
Gonna kiss that pretty girl
On the Tilt-a-Whirl —
Yeah, this old man is going to town!
Make the man a cocktail — he deserves it.