BY JONATHAN VALANIA FOR THE INQUIRER Funny how the more wars change, the more they stay the same. In 1968, at the height of the Vietnam War, John Prine, quintessential Americana songwriter, then fresh out of the Army and well-acquainted with the FUBAR Catch 22s of a soldier’s life, wrote “Sam Stone.”
You may not recognize it from the title, but you have heard this song. Detailing the post-traumatic stress of a Vietnam vet all but abandoned by the country he nobly served, the lyric goes: “There’s a hole in Daddy’s arm where all the money goes / Jesus Christ died for nothing, I suppose.”
Intended as a snapshot of a bleak moment in time, Prine never meant for the song to remain so painfully relevant almost 40 years later.
“At the time, I fully expected the song to be irrelevant by the end of Vietnam,” Prine said earlier this week during a rare interview from his home in Nashville.
In the wake of recent disclosures of shabby treatment of disabled vets at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and a growing chorus of disgruntled Iraq war vets going public with tales of the government giving them the short end of the stick, the song retains a tragic currency.
“But the demand for it only gets stronger — I’ve never been able to give a concert without playing it,” says Prine who performs Saturday at the Mann, bringing the music of his just-released Standard Songs for Average People, an album of duets with bluegrass pioneer Mac Wiseman.
The creation of yet another lost generation of damaged young men neglected by the government they served and invisible to the citizenry they defended may be the broken record of American History repeating itself, but there is a crucial difference between Iraq and Vietnam, says Prine.
“Back then, there was a silent majority that might question the patriotism of people who spoke out against the war, but nobody in the government would ever talk like that,” Prine said. “Today, it’s the vice president that talks like that. That’s really dirty stuff. I can’t believe that in 2007 people are acting like this. It’s really not progress.”