John Prine and I went way back.
In the mid-’70s, I was introduced to his music by a guy who covered his songs. Pat Houlihan sang John Prine’s songs at The Office, an old tavern in Wausau, Wisconsin, right next to the fire station.
But we saw John Prine himself only once, in 2002. He played the big 2,000-seat theater on the UW-Green Bay campus. Our seats were on the main floor, but we were quite a ways back.
It was a good show, and it was great to see him, but I kinda felt like I had to share him with too many people. For a good 25 years before that night, it had always been just me and Prine hanging out in my living room with his records.
When it’s my time and I’ve gone, I hope they play a John Prine song so folks can smile. This song. The advance directive John Prine wrote way back in 1973.
“Please Don’t Bury Me,” John Prine, from “Sweet Revenge,” 1973. Still my favorite John Prine record.
When my dad died almost three years ago, the funeral director asked me whether I wanted my dad’s watch. First, I thought, no. Dad never went anywhere without his watch. Then, I decided, yes. The funeral director handed me a small drawstring pouch with the watch inside.
The other night, John Prine put me at ease about that decision.
Embedded in one of the stories I read that night was the last song on his last record, “When I Get To Heaven,” from “The Tree Of Forgiveness,” which came out in 2018. I hadn’t heard it before, but it was as if it was me and Prine were hanging out in my living room again. Psst. Hey, buddy …
Yeah when I get to heaven / I’m gonna take that wristwatch off my arm
What are you gonna do with time / After you’ve bought the farm?
Couldn’t help but smile. John Prine had given me his blessing.
See, you don’t need that watch, Dad. One of the grandkids, or one of their kids, might like to have it someday. You know you’d like that.
Besides, don’t all the trains run on time now?