Art, Poetry, Music, and Nature for the New Year
Wednesday, February 10 2021
The Reverend Dr. Katie Snipes Lancaster
Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit. Jeremiah 17:7–8
A number of artists died of the coronavirus this past year, notably John Prine, who Rolling Stone called an artist who “wrote for working people, sad people, old people, and lost people,” which means all of us, really. His career began in the sixties, just thirty minutes west of Kenilworth Union where he was a mailman in Maywood, Illinois. He could write songs as he walked his route. And when Kris Kristofferson met him in the early seventies, he remembers thinking, “No way somebody this young can be writing so heavy…John Prine is so good, we may have to break his thumbs.” He was, as one of his obituaries suggested, an artist who “chronicled the human condition in song,” and with an earthy sound and emotional honesty, he read us like an open book.
In an interview Prine once said, “I think the more the listener can contribute to the song, the better; the more they become part of the song, and they fill in the blanks… Rather than tell them everything, you save your details for things that exist. Like what color the ashtray is. How far away the doorway was. So when you’re talking about intangible things, like emotions, the listener can fill in the blanks and you just draw the foundation. I still tend to believe that’s the way to tackle it today.”
In that way, the poetry of his music was thick with images from real life, not overselling the way “things got rough,” just letting us fill in what it has meant for us that “things got harder than hard.”
When things are rough and tough, harder than hard, O Divine One, draw so inexpressibly near to the human condition that we can hear your sacred melody in our bones. Become our song, our light, our foundation. Amen.
Crooked Piece of Time, by John Prine
Things got rough
Things got tough
Things got harder than hard
We were just trying to make a livin’
In our back yard
We were born too late died to soon
Anxiety’s a terrible crime
If you don’t come now don’t come at all
‘Cause it’s a crooked piece of time.
It’s a crooked piece of time that we live in
A crooked piece of time
All in all and all in all
It’s a crooked piece of time.
Yesterday morning an ill wind came
Blew your picture
Right out of the picture frame
Even blew the candle out
From underneath the flame
Yesterday morning an ill wind came.