Bob Dylan made the news this week for winning the Nobel Prize for Literature, an honor of which America’s greatest songwriter was certainly worthy. Meanwhile another influential folk artist, one who was initially deemed as the next Dylan, quietly celebrated his seventieth birthday.John Prine released his debut album way back in 1970, a record satiated with many clever songs that earned him the comparison of Dylan. While he never reached the success or recognition of that famed lyricist, Prine has certainly been cited as a huge inspiration for many of today’s most popular folk songwriters. Among those listing Prine as a major influence are Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, satirist Todd Snider, and fifteen year folk veteran John Gorka.Besides the eternal impression he made on these artists and numerous others, Prine also in his forty five years of recording has left fans with a score of great characters through his lyrics. Here are some of the most memorable of those fictional people he created and the songs in which they appear.
Safety JoeThe song from Fair and Square advises this too cautious title man that “If you don’t loosen up that buckle around your heart and start to chuckle, you’re going to die of boredom.”Sam StoneA Vietnam War veteran succumbs to drug addiction in this poignant ballad from the songwriter’s debut.Donald and LydiaThese two lonely souls “made love in the mountains, made love in the streams, but mostly they made love from ten miles away” according to this title from Prine’s first record.James Louis and WandaThe female is the single mother of “the boy with two first names” who jumps to a messy death on the song Six O’ Clock News.LorettaHello in There describes the feelings of Loretta and her husband, an elderly couple whose children have died or left them to live their last years in loneliness.Cathy from the cafeThe narrator in Far From Me knows that his waitress love interest is ready to break up with him, as “She asked me to change the station, said that song just drove her insane, but it wasn’t the music playing, it was me she was trying to blame.”Iron Ore BettyLoverboy is proud to boast “I’m going steady with iron ore Betty, and she’s going steady with me” on this track from Bruised Orange.
Mr. PeabodyPrine identifies this man as the mine owner whose coal trucks are hauling away the Muhlenberg County, Kentucky that once was considered Paradise.Billy the BumDreaming of having the mobility of a hobo or running as fast as other kids was all this boy could do because of the “twisted legs and childhood disease” with which he was born.Linda Goes To MarsA husband resents that his wife Linda seems to be light years away even when they are sitting side by side in the living room.Lulu WallsFrustrated by constant rejections, the singer refers to this title girl as “that aggravating beauty, Lulu Walls.”