Seekers of all that is righteous and sincere will be a served a double treat on Saturday, Dec. 11, when American great John Prine plays at the City Auditorium, temple of local history and popular culture.
The Illinois native has traversed three decades writing, playing and producing a pure style of Americana music ranging from country to folk and rock to roots. Perhaps you've run across Prine's albums from the 1970s and 1980s while perusing battered vinyl at thrift stores. Reference the album covers of Bruised Orange and Pink Cadillac and there's no doubting that Prine is an American icon with his fantastically un-ironic coiffure and wonderful countrified mustache.
Prine comes from humble origins: His father, William Mason Prine, was a tool and die maker in Maywood, Ill. One of four children, Prine had space as a child to explore his creativity. His brother taught him his first chord on the guitar and, from there, Prine continued to learn in his family home "alone in a room singing to a wall." It was from this unpretentious setting that Prine developed his sense as an unbiased social commentator and promoter of the common man.
Prine did a two-year tour in the Army and took a job with the Postal Service before his singer/songwriter talent took him in other directions. A turn at a bar open-mike night saw Prine, fueled with beer-bravado, commenting that he could do better than the other amateurs. A fellow patron called his bluff; Prine got on stage and sang "Sam Stone," "Hello In There" and "Paradise." The crowd loved him and the owner promptly offered him a regular job.
Prine attracted the attention of Kris Kristofferson, a move that resulted in a national label deal. He worked with two major labels and released eight albums, yet he wasn't satisfied. He looked inward, re-evaluated his situation, moved to Nashville and created his own label, Oh Boy records, thereby taking complete control of his artistic direction.
The independent redirection in his career has certainly paid off. Prine released a slew of independent records beginning in 1984, gathering one Grammy and two nominations. His songs have also drawn the attention of fellow performers. The Everly Brothers covered "Paradise"; Bette Midler and Joan Baez interpreted "Hello in There." The singer/songwriter has been awash in nostalgia in his two recent albums, Souvenirs (2000) and In Spite of Ourselves (1999). Souvenirs is a 15-track album of rereleased songs that he refers to as his "faithful companions," a collection of his favorite and most popular songs spanning from the beginning of his recording career in 1971 to recent hits.
In Spite Of Ourselves reinterprets old country classics in duet arrangements and is arguably Prine's best work to date. The twangy collection offers collaborations with female artists Emmylou Harris, Patty Loveless and Lucinda Williams, among others. Most memorable, however, are the wry yet poignant duets with Iris DeMent. In "(We're Not) the Jet Set," Prine and DeMent exchange lyrics of plain people contrasted against the habits of the rich and hoity-toity. The duo keeps it real, singing, "We're not the jet set, we're the old Chevrolet set. Our steak and martinis are draft beer and weenies."
So eat your weenies and remember the inscription above the stage at the City Auditorium: USUI CIVIUM DECORI URBUS (For the use of the people and the glory of the city). Likewise, expect Prine to keep it real on Dec. 11, a true piece of genuine Americana.
-- Aaron Menza
John Prine and Jason Wilber
Saturday, Dec. 11, at 8 p.m.
Colorado Springs City Auditorium, 221 E. Kiowa St.
Tickets at TicketsWest outlets, 800/325-SEAT, www.ticketswest.com