HEAR YE: Return Of The Wichita Lineman


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NPR FOR THE DEAF: We Hear It Even When You Can’t


JOHN PRINE [Highly Recommended]listen.gif
Join us for a two-hour visit with John Prine as he walks us through his life — from urban Illinois backwards to Muhlenberg County, Kentucky — and catalog. For over 35 years, the singer and guitarist has written and performed songs which present a slightly off-kilter and darkly humorous look at working classjohnprinecover.jpg America. We’ll also talk agitprop with the man who has written Vietnam-era protest songs like “Take the Star Our of the Window” and “Sam Stone,” and environmental broadsides such as “Paradise.” There’s also performances of Prine’s songs by others and more in this two-hour visit with one of America’s leading songwriters.

WORTH REPEATING: 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 PTSD struggles of a Vietnam vet all but abandoned by the country he bravely served in a pointless war, it goes: “There’s a hole in Daddy’s arm where the 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,” said Prine earlier this week during a rare interview from his home in Nashville. In the wake of the disclosures of shabby treatment of disabled vets at Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital and a growing chorus of disgruntled Iraq War vets going public with tales of government bean counters giving them the short end of the stick, the song retains a tragic relevance. “But the demand for it only gets stronger. I’ve never been able to give a concert without playing it,” says Prine who plays at the Mann on Saturday in support of the just-released Standard Songs For Average Americans, an album of duets with bluegrass legend Mac Wiseman.

johnprinecd.jpgWhile 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 history repeating itself, 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. 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.” — JONATHAN VALANIA

PREVIOUSLY: People have been trying to get me into Prine for years, but he always struck me as one of those things that was “good for you” but didn’t taste good—like broccoli or condoms. But last week NPR’s American Routes devoted a whole show to the man, and you know what? All of a sudden I’m likin’ the taste of broccoli and condoms. You’ve heard “Sam Stone” even if the title doesn’t ring a bell. It’s the song that goes, “There’s a hole in Daddy’s arm where all the money goes/ Jesus Christ died for nothing I suppose.”

Which got me to thinking: When the Vietnam vets came home, they became victims. When the Iraq War vets came home, they became activists—running for office as Democrats or starting anti-Swift Boater 527s likeunclesamneedle_1.jpg VoteVets.org.

This is progress.

VoteVets is a group of Iraq vets delivering karmic comeuppance to war-pig GOP congressmen who talk the war-on-terror talk out of one side of their mouth and vote to kill funding for state-of-the-art body armor out of the other. VoteVets has a devastatingly effective TV ad demonstrating the difference between the Vietnam-era flak vest issued to our boys in Baghdad, which modern arms turn to swiss cheese, and the latest body armor that stops bullets dead—before they kill and maim. The ad ends with an Iraq War vet explaining [insert name of war-pig congressman here] voted against funding modern body armor.

Last week VoteVets.org took the fight to Pennsylvania, targeting our pal Rick Santorum, another cynical chickenhawk who voted to sell out the troops under cover of Senatorial procedural bullshit. Pardon my French, but…Fuck. These. People. All together now, let us sing: There’s a hole in the nation’s arm where all the money goes, and our boys in Baghdad are dying a death of a thousand tax cuts, I suppose. — JONATHAN VALANIA


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