In Spite of Ourselves: Goodnight, John Prine.

In this long, always-strange, often nightmarish trip that we find ourselves taking (and by “trip” I mean going absolutely nowhere, save the expanse of our own minds), headlines fly like missiles. No warning, no test broadcast, just another emotionless truth bomb, generally announcing more loss.

We’ve watched the public figures fighting battles of their own, pulling no punches as they chronicle the absolute nightmare that this is even for the robust, the most healthy. We’ve watched other public figures battling more private wars, somber updates periodically reminding us that they are still in the hospital, conditions varying from critical to stable, the virus reminding us that the difference is no more than a Thanos snap.

I first heard a John Prine song on the radio one day in 2016. Josh and I were just about to get engaged, though I didn’t know it yet, and as I pulled into the driveway of his mother’s house, “In Spite of Ourselves” began to play. For those of you not familiar, here are the (absolutely golden) lyrics.

She don’t like her eggs all runny
She thinks crossin’ her legs is funny
She looks down her nose at money
She gets it on like the Easter Bunny
She’s my baby, I’m her honey
I’m never gonna let her go

He ain’t got laid in a month of Sundays
Caught him once and he was sniffin’ my undies
He ain’t too sharp but he gets things done
Drinks his beer like it’s oxygen
He’s my baby, I’m his honey
I’m never gonna let him go

In spite of ourselves we’ll end up a-sittin’ on a rainbow
Against all odds, honey we’re the big door-prize
We’re gonna spite our noses right off of our faces
There won’t be nothin’ but big ol’ hearts dancin’ in our eyes

She thinks all my jokes are corny
Convict movies make her horny
She likes ketchup on her scrambled eggs
Swears like a sailor when she shaves her legs
She takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’
I’m never gonna let her go

He’s got more balls than a big brass monkey
A whacked-out weirdo and a love bugged junkie
Sly as a fox crazy as a loon
Payday comes and he’s a-howlin’ at the moon
He’s my baby, I don’t mean maybe
I’m never gonna let him go

John Prine and Iris DeMent, In Spite of Ourselves, 1999

Soon after that, Josh and I got engaged, and during that engagement, we listened to quite a bit of John Prine. His lyrics were frequently as hilarious as his guitar was soulful (yet somehow a perfectly light backdrop), just enough to remind you that this was a whole act, man.

The night before our wedding reception, Josh and I practiced singing our parts to that song for probably two hours. We’d had a couple of drinks, and a half-baked plan, I guess, to do this whole act as a surprise for our families (and what a surprise that would’ve been). Anyway, we didn’t do it.

But the love for John remained.

In 2017, on our then-annual pilgrimage to Columbia’s Roots Blues BBQ Music Festival, we finally got to see John live. He looked like it might be his last show, but he sounded just as perfectly gravelly as ever, laugh-shrugging off his performance every now and again as if to remind us that he didn’t take himself too seriously, and neither should we.

As we left, I didn’t think we’d be seeing him again.

And I was right. An illness postponed one tour, a schedule conflict kept us from another show, and finances kept us from hitting that postponed tour once it promised to come back around.

And when I saw that he had contracted Coronavirus last week, and was in critical condition, my heart constricted. I didn’t think there could be any way he could bounce back from this, with his age and ongoing health problems. But then, word came that he had stabilized, and we breathed a sigh of relief, though we held it just a little bit longer.

And then, there was no word…until tonight. Thanks to my subscription to Variety breaking news, my inbox lights up every 30 minutes or so, either with a studio shakeup or…word of the fallen. And this was the one I never wanted to see.

John Prine, Legendary Folk Singer, Dies at 73

It’s been a lot of bad news. A lot of sad news. A lot of reminders that we’re not just staying inside and protecting ourselves for ourselves, but for everyone around us. These measures aren’t taken to make our lives harder, but to make our lives…longer. To make our breathing, literally, easier. To ease the burden of guilt should we learn we had passed the virus without knowing to someone elderly, or immunocompromised, or a baby. Hell, even a tiger.

But even in these times, even in these weird times, even in these “do I act like I’m on staycation or…” times, John had a song ready for us.

I know a guy that’s got a lot to lose.
He’s a pretty nice fellow but he’s kind of confused.
He’s got muscles in his head that ain’t never been used.
Thinks he own half of this town.

Starts drinking heavy, gets a big red nose.
Beats his old lady with a rubber hose,
Then he takes her out to dinner and buys her new clothes.
That’s the way that the world goes ’round.

That’s the way that the world goes ’round.
You’re up one day and the next you’re down.
It’s half an inch of water and you think you’re gonna drown.
That’s the way that the world goes ’round.

I was sitting in the bathtub counting my toes,
When the radiator broke, water all froze.
I got stuck in the ice without my clothes,
Naked as the eyes of a clown.
I was crying ice cubes hoping I’d croak,
When the sun come through the window, the ice all broke.
I stood up and laughed thought it was a joke
That’s the way that the world goes ’round.

And for this, I can think of no more perfect fit than That’s the Way the World Goes Round.

Because, truly, it is.

Take care of yourselves, friends.

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