As I type this, we are still in a state of quarantine, as the pandemic of COVID19 continues to be the dominant force on this planet. The number of lives already lost to this disease is mind-boggling, and among the lives lost was a man nominated for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame's Class Of 2019, but was not inducted. I am of course referring to John Prine.
While Prine didn't make it in that year, and is still not in, his nomination certainly did raise an awareness for his music that wasn't previously there. When the nominees were announced in mid-to-late 2018 for the Class Of 2019, I remember one member of the Hall-watching community said something along the lines of, "I remember the first time I heard a John Prine song. It was five minutes after he was announced as a nominee." And I have to admit, I was pretty much in the same boat. But I was willing to listen, to delve into his catalog, and see if I could understand his nomination. And even though I ranked him way down on the Merits' ranking list, I understood the nomination. His songwriting genius is undeniable. His melodies are pleasant and unpretentious, the wit of his lyrics is sharp yet gentle when he wanted, or in your face if he wanted it that way, and the overall experience is refreshing and edifying.
It's just amazing how many of his songs I've found myself humming and thinking of in response to what was going on around me. The political sphere of this country frequently has me thinking of "Your Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore." The day-to-day ridiculous in the immediate world around us will sometimes remind me "Egg & Daughter Nite, Lincoln, Nebraska 1967 (Crazy Bone)." As someone with extremely low self-esteem, I find "Day Is Done" to have a sweet sadness that lets me know it's okay to feel down for a little bit, but not too long. His duets are wonderful and at times profound.
John Prine died before he could be voted in to become inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, but his nomination helped his music gain wider exposure. This is something that the Hall does right. I remember once reading an article about how being announced as a nominee helped increase an artist's sales for a short burst of time. Same with being announced as an inductee. And the actual ceremony. The Hall increases exposure for the artists it nominates, which is necessary when the sole criterion is the passage of at least twenty-five years since an artist's debut release. For those of us who follow the Hall as a hobby, "left field" picks like Prine will often give us a chance to check out artists we may not have known, or think we knew, or knew of, but didn't really know. In the case of John Prine, I found an artist I really liked. I also learned that I'm really not into grunge, not even a legendary act like Soundgarden. I've gotten to know the music of T. Rex much more deeply, to delve deeper into R&B acts like Little Willie John, and even to buy music again, artists ranging from Ruth Brown and LaVern Baker to N.W.A. and 2Pac.
It's easy to criticize the Hall, and we all do it from time to time. But with the passing of John Prine, rather than be upset that he didn't get inducted while alive, I'm choosing to remember that the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame is how I first learned of the music of John Prine. The Hall's mission is to enshrine and perpetuate incredible music that is part of the rock and roll diaspora, and when they introduce a great artist to people's ears for the first time, they are doing their job correctly. This is why we care about the Hall, because they do things like this that are fantastic, and it's why we try to hold them accountable as much as we can, because when they get off track, it can be pretty egregious. We care about the music itself, we ultimately believe in the Hall, and thus it galls us to find out about their surreptitious shenanigans. But for tonight, it's about what they've done right. In this case, introducing John Prine's brilliance to a new audience.
Thank you, Rock Hall. Rest In Peace John Prine.