Big Old Goofy World

The art of the John Prine non-interview

Despite these positives, I've never looked forward to the latest Prine release with the same trembling enthusiasm I reserve for such singer/songwriters as Lovett, Randy Newman, Judy Henske or Warren Zevon, whose recent death still pisses me off. Prine's low-key, gone-fishin' approach lacks the stunning originality and manic vision of the abovementioned, even as he has avoided the soporific tendencies of many talented but wimpy/banal brethren; he suffers not from James Taylor-itis. At least that's my take: I asked a singer/songwriter friend of much renown for her take on why Prine fails to generate much in the way of electricity, and she relayed her belief that Prine, for all his admirable and prodigious skill, lacks passion and charisma. She also felt that Prine is a dude-centric phenomenon: "He makes music for depressed guys to listen to while they're sitting around by themselves in their apartments."

Also, the formerly prolific Prine seems to be afflicted with a rather nasty dose of writer's block. His last few albums have been interesting exercises in water-treadage–a collection of duets with female singers (including Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris and Iris DeMent); re-workings of early material that Oh Boy Records didn't own the master recordings of; a concert CD–but it has been eight long years since the release of an album of all-new material. A bout with throat cancer in the late '90s surely mustn't have been conducive to productivity, but Prine has since thankfully recovered, and his voice has suffered no lasting damage, judging by his two post-cancer efforts. He's due for another statement on the order of The Missing Years, which one hopes and suspects he still has in him.

In summation: Dylanations aside, I respect John Prine, I'm tickled by his eyebrows, I enjoy his songs despite the fact that I live neither alone nor in an apartment, yet I'm deeply wounded by the fact that he thinks he's too good to speak to me. But at least he didn't put one of his employees up to calling me an asshole on the telephone.

John Prine performs at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, 12700 Center Court Dr., Cerritos, (562) 916-8501. Fri., 8 p.m. $25-$55. ALL AGES.

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