Don’t forget, it killed John Prine

Prine’s music is for the two-hundred thousand Americans who have died from this virus.

Photo by Danny Clinche

“I’ve been thinking lately about the people I meet, The carwash on the corner and the hole in the street.” — John Prine, Fish and Whistle

At the Presidential debate last week, Biden kept invoking the number “two-hundred thousand.”

Two-hundred thousand, that’s how many Americans have died from this virus. That’s how many Americans have died under the leadership of Donald Trump.

That’s a mighty big number, and I was trying to think if I might know one of them. If one of those two-hundred thousand might be connected to me in some way. And then I remembered — this thing killed John Prine.

I’m not going to pretend John Prine’s death affected me as deeply as a family members or friends would. To do so would be an insult to Prine’s loved ones, as well as the hundreds of thousands of ‘loved ones’ who have lost people in these last few months.

But as the President struggles with his own coronavirus diagnosis, and we all struggle with weather or not we should empathize, let’s remember John Prine. What he represented, and what his death meant for America.

Prine was a folk and country singer, not as popular as Johny Cash or -God forbid- Keith Urban, but that’s ok. Prine was more concerned about what he had to say than with who was listening. It may be cliché to say a songwriter wrote for American working class people, but for Prine, it’s without-a-doubt the truth.

Prine’s most popular song, Angel From Montgomery, is from the perspective of an old woman who stays home all day missing her youth and listening to flies buzz in the kitchen. Not about a bank-robber or Highwayman, but an old, forgotten American woman. The kind of woman who might have gotten caught in that big number — two-hundred thousand.

Many of Prine’s other songs have a similar focus. Songs about veterans like Sam Stone, who come back from a fighting in a terrible and unjust war, only to fight addiction and eventually die a lonesome death. I’m sure some of those two-hundred thousand were veterans like the subject of Sam Stone.

Hell, Prine himself was a veteran.

He was also a mail-carrier.

Prine wrote songs for people who “like their apples sweet” and “who’s streets are not concrete,” who are “in their bed by nine every night.”

For old couples who “don’t talk much more.”

For people who like hard boiled eggs and look out screen doors.

His songs are for the people who died from this virus. Who continue to die from this virus. People who don’t have access to “the greatest healthcare in the world,” the healthcare Donald Trump currently has.

During that first Presidential debate, the one where Trump mocked Biden for his coronavirus precautions and defended his own inaction, Prine’s widow, Fiona Whelan Prine, Tweeted “Can someone get that f****** idiot off the stage. My husband died on his watch.”

Fiona Whelan Prine has a right to be angry, so do the families of one-hundred ninety-nine thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine other Americans who died “on Trumps watch.”

John Prine said that when he got to heaven he’d “forgive anyone who did him any harm.” If John Prine, or any Prine, wants to forgive Donald Trump for his criminal irresponsibility, that’s up to them.

But the American people, the electorate, the people John Prine wrote songs for, the people in danger from this virus — they’re going to have to make up their own minds about whether or not to forgive this President, and if he deserves the mercy that Prine, and hundreds of thousands of others, didn’t get.

Journalism student at the University of King's College, Halifax N.S Canada. Writer, music enthusiast, and cautious defender of the Oxford comma.

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