Rod Lyman's John Prine Tattoo
"She got a tattoo on the side of her chest ... god-damn, my thoughts are still hard." ~John Prine
|The summer of 1980 I turned 14. Punk rock was it. The Ramones, Blondie, Sex Pistols and The Clash were constantly blaring from my cassette player.
I shaved my head, wore black wrap around sunglasses and Doc Marten boots. I was a punk. Of course I had to trade that out for Izod Lacoste and Topsiders come fall and private school. But, being a bit too rambunctious for an episcopal school, I was promptly kicked out. That november my parents decided to put me in an outward bound based forestry camp. Top of a mountain in West Virginia, log and army canvas tents, rusty old wood stoves and a mud oven for cooking. Chief Emmit and Chief Rick were the two counselors for our group of ten kids. As we were cutting and chopping two cords of wood per day, building up our campsite and cleaning up the Appalachian trail they taught us two songs. One was called "Dear Abby" the other "Grandpa Was A Carpenter" don't recall if the name John Prine was mentioned, but I did know all the words to those songs long before I heard the originals.
Some years passed and I raged my way through the DC, New York hardcore scene. Slam dancing, mohawks, makeup, clubbing and groupie girls. Later we dubbed it the "Barbazon school of rocking" (do you want to be a rock star, or just look like one) in 1995 I moved to a town in South Carolina with a population of 32. We reopened Grandpa's Old Country Store with tongue and groove everything, on premise beer sales, a minnow tank and a cricket cage. One day while browsing the bargain bin at Cat's Records I noticed a John Prine tape (the first one) on clearance for two dollars. I bought it, took it home and played it, over and over again. When the ends of the tape stretched and distorted the sound, I went and bought another one (Prime Prine) and played it over and over until the tape stretched. That was it.
I'd moved to the country and was building on our home. We ate a lot of peaches, and wel,l my ex was an Atheist . . . due to the impact these two tapes had on me I decided to explore other "country" music. Thankfully Johnny Cash was putting some new stuff out with producer Rick Rubin covering some Beck and some grunge and offered an opportunity to cross over with less pain involved. Punk was great as a kid, but for a guy who was driving a '68 Ford truck to and from work in the lumber mill, the country lyrics were speaking to me more personally. I got my hands on more John Prine. CD's now.
Another changeover. In the late '90's my brother sent me the pre-release for "In Spite Of Ourselves". That cd was played 3, 4, 5 times per day for months until I finally acquired tickets to see the man in person in Charleston SC. I shaved my head with a Bic razor for the event and wore an Armani suit out of respect (and reverence) for the man that completely changed my musical world. After Iris DeMent played an incredible starter set, I went out to the smoking section and was approached by a very hippy kind of hippy who offered to smoke some funny tobacco with me. By that time I had become a rare part time smoker, so it turned out to be a mistake accepting his offer (the first 20 minutes of the show was a blur until I finally came down enough to enjoy it.) The only reason I mention this is that it proves that a dreadlocked hippy and a bald Armani suit wearing "punk" can find each other and share and common bond through the music of John Prine, although he did beg to differ when I described the music as country ("it's FOLK, not country". whatever). The last 3/4 of my first country (no folk!) concert felt as if the heavens had opened up and rained love and laughter on my soul. I knew every word to every song. Lyrical genius, in my humble opinion.
Fast forward to a few months ago when a friend of mine tells me that John Prine will be playing in Tucson and Phoenix AZ. The same weekend my in-laws are coming down and have expensive tickets for us to attend a spiritual conference. What could I do except buy two tickets for the Tucson show (I hate Phoenix) and tell "mom" that I'll have to miss them this trip. through the miracle of the internet and the kindness of a fellow Prine fan, I was given the opportunity to attend the Phoenix show the next day as well (didn't know which row and what is an after show pass anyway?). The morning of november 9th had the in-laws arrive at 11 am, pleasantries were exchanged and I hopped into the gassed up, cooler full of sodas, car, picked up my friend and began the 200 plus mile road trip to Tucson and the Fox Theater which had recently undergone a 6 year 13 million dollar restoration. After picking up our tickets at will-call we rented a room at the Quality Inn near downtown. The quality of that inn had plummeted dramatically since it was built in the 1970's. Oh well, perfect for us poor people who wanted to walk to the theater and back. After a dinner at a greasy diner and a few games of pool at a local dive bar, show time was finally at hand. As usual the crowd was very diverse: from young to old, long hairs, crew cuts, sweater vests and ponchos. We settled into our row V seats and listened to Jason Wilber sing beautiful and sentimental fun-filled songs of his own, interspersing them with fun stories about himself as well as ones that involved Mr. Prine. That was all I needed to be a huge Jason Wilber fan (I thought). During the intermission I purchased the cd Jason had for sale, had him sign it, and asked him if he thought Mr. Prine might be willing to sign my chest for a tattoo. He said "You'll have to ask him yourself". Pretty soon John and Jason and Dave hit the stage and thrilled the audience with an unbelievably professional run through of Mr. Prine's best loved songs (can't think of one I don't love). This set was also peppered with many humorous and sentimental anecdotes, it was like falling in love all over again. After a rousing encore, audience hooting and screaming, the house lights came back on and we exited the theater into the warm Tucson evening - stone cold sober, yet feeling higher on Prine than any drug or alcohol could ever make one feel.
Wow. John Prine is the king and I am just a humble servant. How could day two possibly beat this?
The next day we arrived in Phoenix at 1 pm. Way early, so we got coffee, and more coffee. At 3ish we met the friend who had the extra tickets. More coffee followed, then more. Before we found a spot to dine, we ran into Jason Wilber walking back to the hotel from sound check. Introductions were made, hands were shook, and he actually remembered me from the night before. After a dinner (and more coffee) of lobster pot pie and lobster mac and cheese, the box office opened and I was jaw droppingly thrilled to learn that we were to be in row two of the orchestra pit (out of two rows in the orchestra pit) "now here's the important part" I was told while being handed an "after show pass", nothing was guaranteed, yet I did carry a cd and a blue sharpie on the off chance that... close up is an amazing place to see John play. He exudes an aura of peace and serenity and humor and reality that is nearly unmatched by any other performer. The Phoenix show was nearly identical to the Tucson show, with a few changes thrown in to keep everyone on their feet.
©2007 Rod Lyman
Somebody else got their chest tattooed?
What was funny is that he asked me while I was getting my tattoo if I "had lost my ever loving mind"