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Music » Sound Stories & Interviews

Harvesting Fruit Borne of Harsh Times

Iconic folk singer John Prine



Sometimes it takes a messy life to make meaningful music. It would be hard to argue that folk singer John Prine doesn't fit that bill.

Though not one to suffer any of the self-inflicted and unnecessary difficulties typically associated with musicians—oh, say, the cliché alcohol or drug addiction—Prine has instead navigated the kind of trials that can plague any man. The singer—a former mailman—known for his down-to-earth stories set to a laidback Midwest hybrid of folk and country, has journeyed through three marriages, a stint with the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, and even battled throat cancer, eventually undergoing a surgery that altered his voice.

That last experience was instrumental in shifting Prine's approach to life. Earlier this year, he talked about it with British news organization The Telegraph.

"It definitely made me more aware of what's around the corner," Prine said. "It was a jumping-off point for the rest of my life, I think. I had spent a lot of time racing hungrily towards things I wanted. But it makes you look properly at things around you, think about what you have accomplished, in your family life as well as your work. Think about what has borne fruit."

Despite putting the cancer behind him in 1998, it took Prine seven years to release an album of new original material—his first in a decade. The result was 2005's Fair and Square, the highest-charting record of his career. It won the Grammy for best contemporary folk album—his second such award. The Missing Years won him his first in 1992. Full of introspective songs like "Glory of True Love" and "Taking a Walk," Fair and Square put the exclamation point on an already lauded career.

However, in a unique turn of events, Prine was given yet another opportunity to reflect on his life when he cleaned out his garage and discovered recordings he had made in 1970, one year before his first album.

In 2011, he released that anthology as the album The Singing Mailman Delivers. It was a time capsule of Prine's years as a mailman containing his early musings on the future set against observations of people around him.

For listeners, when contrasted to the more recent retrospective songs of Fair and Square, the distinctions between looking ahead versus in the rearview mirror are crystal clear. And the result is a unique opportunity to pry into the last 40 years of one of folk musics most admired characters.

John Prine

6:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 26

The Athletic Club of Bend

61615 Athletic Club DR

Tickets $38 at Newport Market

About The Author

Ethan Maffey

Both a writer and a fan of vinyl records since age 5, it wasn't until nearly three decades later that Oregon Native Ethan Maffey derived a plan to marry the two passions by writing about music. From blogging on MySpace in 2007 and then Blogspot, to launching his own website, 83Music, and eventually freelancing...

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