John Prine’s Last Song Was Also His First to Go No. 1: Watch Him Perform “I Remember Everything”

It feels cos­mi­cal­ly iron­ic that Great Amer­i­can Song­writer John Prine died of COVID-19 in ear­ly April, just before the U.S. response to the virus was devel­op­ing into what may well be the Great­est Polit­i­cal Fol­ly most Amer­i­cans have ever wit­nessed in their life­times. Mass death for prof­it and pow­er, colos­sal stu­pid­i­ty and bul­ly­ing ignorance—these were just the kinds of things that got Prine’s wheels turn­ing. His thoughts became folk poet­ry with teeth.

Prine’s tar­gets includ­ed the con­ser­v­a­tive demo­niza­tion of sin­gle moth­ers in “Unwed Fathers,” who “can’t be both­ered,” he sang, “They run like water, through a moun­tain stream.” In 1971, he told bel­liger­ent Amer­i­can nation­al­ists “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You into Heav­en Any­more,” in a song he’d actu­al­ly writ­ten in the late 60s, call­ing out America’s “dirty lit­tle war.” He revis­it­ed this ever­green anti-war theme in 2005’s “Some Humans Ain’t Human,” a song that angered many fans. While Prine’s explic­it­ly polit­i­cal songs are only a small part of his cat­a­logue, his lyri­cism always clear­ly reflect­ed his beliefs.

“Bestow­ing dig­ni­ty on the over­looked and mar­gin­al­ized was a com­mon theme through­out Prine’s career,” writes Annie Zales­ki in an NPR Music trib­ute. “He became known for detailed vignettes about ordi­nary peo­ple that illus­trat­ed truths about soci­ety.” His mas­tery of this form made him the ulti­mate songwriter’s song­writer. But while he won two Gram­mys and sev­er­al oth­er dis­tin­guished awards, “induc­tions into mul­ti­ple song­writer halls of fame,” notes Eli Enis at Con­se­quence of Sound, “and gush­ing praise from peers like Bob Dylan, Bruce Spring­steen, and Tom Pet­ty,” Prine nev­er had a No. 1 hit, until now—in a final irony he would have appreciated—with his posthu­mous release, “I Remem­ber Every­thing.”

The song came out on June 11 and this week “debuted at the top of the Rock Dig­i­tal Song Sales chart, mak­ing it the high­est-chart­ing sin­gle of the late legend’s entire career.” It show­cas­es Prine’s abil­i­ty to make the per­son­al reflect larg­er social real­i­ties he may nev­er have seen com­ing but some­how tuned into nonethe­less. In this case, the sub­ject is a man who knows he’s out of time and wants to savor every mem­o­ry before he goes. Writ­ten with long­time col­lab­o­ra­tor Pat McLaugh­lin, the lyrics are gor­geous­ly bit­ter­sweet, touch­ing the depths of loss and reck­on­ing with mor­tal­i­ty.

Prine’s per­for­mance at the top was record­ed last year by Gram­my-win­ning pro­duc­er Dave Cobb. “Giv­en that Prine passed away back in April fol­low­ing a bat­tle with coro­n­avirus, the song’s life-span­ning, self-reflec­tive lyrics are aching­ly pre­scient,” writes Enis. And it’s “almost too on-the-nose that the track was pre­sent­ed in a home per­for­mance con­text, months before that set­up would become nor­mal­ized for a world in quar­an­tine.” Prine always had an “uncan­ny abil­i­ty to address (if not pre­dict) the soci­etal and polit­i­cal zeit­geist,” Zales­ki wrote in April. No mat­ter how ugly the zeit­geist was, he nev­er let it dull his wit or cloud his eye for beau­ty.


I Remem­ber Every­thing

I’ve been down this road before
I remem­ber every tree
Every sin­gle blade of grass
Holds a spe­cial place for me
And I remem­ber every town
And every hotel room
And every song I ever sang
On a gui­tar out of tune

I remem­ber every­thing
Things I can’t for­get
The way you turned and smiled on me
On the night that we first met
And I remem­ber every night
Your ocean eyes of blue
How I miss you in the morn­ing light
Like ros­es miss the dew

I’ve been down this road before
Alone as I can be
Care­ful not to let my past
Go sneak­ing up on me
Got no future in my hap­pi­ness
Though regrets are very few
Some­times a lit­tle ten­der­ness
Was the best that I could do

I remem­ber every­thing
Things I can’t for­get
Swim­ming pools of but­ter­flies
That slipped right through the net
And I remem­ber every night
Your ocean eyes of blue
How I miss you in the morn­ing light
Like ros­es miss the dew

How I miss you in the morn­ing light
Like ros­es miss the dew

via Con­se­quence of Sound

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Remem­ber­ing Amer­i­can Song­writ­ing Leg­end John Prine (RIP): “A True Folk Singer in the Best Folk Tra­di­tion”

Bill Mur­ray Explains How He Was Saved by John Prine

An Ani­mat­ed Leonard Cohen Offers Reflec­tions on Death: Thought-Pro­vok­ing Excerpts from His Final Inter­view

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (5)
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  • Lonnie says:

    To call the pan­dem­ic response a “polit­i­cal fol­ly” is a bit short sight­ed. No one real­ly knows exact­ly what to do about it.
    The great­est polit­i­cal fol­ly by a pres­i­dent, that we have seen, was when Oba­ma sent bil­lions of dol­lars, by plane not doubt, to Iran.

  • Josh Jones says:

    Wrong. We know what to do. Close all inessen­tial busi­ness­es, schools, etc. issue stay-at-home orders, require masks, pay peo­ple to stay home, test every­one, do con­tact trac­ing, give hos­pi­tals, nurs­ing homes, and oth­er care facil­i­ties PPE (instead of con­fis­cat­ing sup­plies and sell­ing them), sus­pend rents, and work to devel­op a vac­cine. That’s how to con­tain the virus. It’s what epi­demi­ol­o­gists and econ­o­mists keep say­ing and it’s more-or-less what has worked in oth­er coun­tries that are seri­ous about con­tain­ing the virus. The US, UK, and Brazil con­tin­ue to put prof­it first and try to strip away pro­tec­tions and health­care from cit­i­zens. The pres­i­dent is cur­rent­ly try­ing to repeal the ACA, which does­n’t do near­ly enough, but repeal­ing it will mean mil­lions of peo­ple will lose health insur­ance. Con­gress could expand Med­icaire to every­one. Instead we have mil­lions going unem­ployed and los­ing health insur­ance, with no way to pay for what­ev­er COVID treat­ments the mar­ket pro­duces, which are already being hoard­ed and priced too high for any­one but the wealthy to afford. None of what is hap­pen­ing had to hap­pen. It could have been entire­ly dif­fer­ent. The idea that no one knows what to do is absurd when Amer­i­cans are refus­ing even the most sim­ple, sen­si­ble solu­tions, like wear­ing masks in pub­lic and social dis­tanc­ing and they are doing it because they’ve been told to by the admin­is­tra­tion.

  • Lonnie says:

    Wrong! Every major coun­try in the world is see­ing a resur­gence in the virus. The only ones that are suc­cess­ful are the ones who already had secure bor­ders.
    You should try to broad­en your sources where you get your infor­ma­tion. By only choos­ing the left lean­ing sources, you aren’t get­ting a big pic­ture view of the world.
    FYI I’m sure you will cen­sure this com­ment just like you do all the oth­er ones that con­tra­dict you! Lol

  • Lonnie says:

    And just so you know, I agree with some of the things you said like wear­ing masks, social dis­tanc­ing, etc., but you lost me with pay­ing peo­ple to stay at home and expand­ing Medicare. Mon­ey doesn’t grow on trees. It’s fun­ny how the gen­er­a­tions born after we got off of the gold stan­dard view mon­ey. They think it is some­thing that is an elec­tron­ic num­ber that is only an idea.

    Josh, you should also stop think­ing of the gov­ern­ment as your dad­dy that needs to take care of you. We are all indi­vid­u­als who know what is best for our­selves. Stop think­ing of peo­ple as sheep. I think it is best to social dis­tance and wear masks. I have done that for 3 months. We all are born free to choose. If peo­ple don’t do it, that is their busi­ness. It is not my job, nor your job to police them. Let the cards fall where they may. Try to be exis­ten­tial about it.

  • Lew A (Lincoln) Welge says:

    John Prine was a Musi­cal Artist Prophet who MAPped an icon­ic and ines­timably invalu­able Way to Express Hon­esty (sin­cer­i­ty) IS THE best pol­i­cy.

    Ya see, #GodIsLove (Peri­od! — ref. 1 John 4:8) and “The Tao (Way/Path) which can be spo­ken of is not the Eter­nal Tao” (Tao de Ching), so it must be Sung.

    So, any­way, Mar­velous Mon­day morn­ing greet­ings to ya’ll!

    And since you’re Read­ing, This is a #Rea­chOut to ya’ll admired & appre­ci­at­ed #SocialJus­tice­Ac­tivists to request your affil­i­a­tion with we wee & large #Con­spir­a­cyRe­al­ist­Truthers at,,,,, and even at my own lit­tle anti­quat­ed site: where you’re invit­ed to #Subscribe4FREE. #Please­Like­And­ShareWide­ly because, now a sex­a­ge­nar­i­an of NEARLY 66 yoa, I’m “All about Self-Pro­mo­tion” (half kidding/serious). TY!

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