I have a friend who’s a music enthusiast and posts on Facebook every time one of his favorite music artists passes away. Many have passed away over the last few years. March 29, 2020, Daniel posted that John Prine was in critical condition due to Covid-19 and linked to a Rolling Stone article. On April 7, he created a post that simply said, “Oh no.” John Prine had died due to Covid-19 complications.
Who is John Prine? I found myself wondering.
People seemed heartbroken and I wasn’t sure I’d ever heard his music. I went to Spotify and found one of my new favorite songs. It’s got a rough country twang and reminds me of my 20-year partnership with my now-husband, David. Our partnership isn’t always easy. It takes effort and a huge dose of humor and humility to keep a relationship ticking this long. I think John Prine gets this.
“In Spite of Ourselves” is a duet featuring John Prine and Iris DeMent, written by John Prine and appearing on the 1999 album of the same name. I had no idea that the song was written for a Billy Bob Thornton movie, Daddy and Them. In the YouTube video linked below, Prine says he based the lyrics loosely on the characters in the movie.
The lyrics are whimsical, gruff, realistic, funny, and lovely. Prine opens with this gem:
[Verse 1: John Prine]
She don’t like her eggs all runny
She thinks crossin’ her legs is funny
She looks down her nose at money
She gets it on like the Easter Bunny
She’s my baby, I’m her honey
I’m never gonna let her go
Although I don’t have much trust in carrying a tune myself, I just sang these lyrics aloud, and they sounded pretty on-key to me. This leads me to believe that the song’s range is pretty simple. It’s the kind of song that invites you to sing along.
In these first six lines, Prine invites us to also fall in love with the woman he’s writing about. We get a feel for her. She has strong opinions on how she takes her eggs, on the prim and proper form of crossed legs (not her thing), on money (there are more important things in life), and she loves sex, thus the bunny reference.
The male duetist loves her so much that he’s keeping her around for always. This last line can be read into as the kind of unhealthy relationship dynamic in which we don’t easily release lovers from our grasp when they’re ready to move on or it can be read like a simple love song. I’ll have to watch the movie to know which type Prine is referring to. Life is complicated and I’m guessing it’s a mixture of the two.
In Verse 2, we get to hear the female duetist express her views about her male counterpart. They’re just as humorous and affectionate as his:
[Verse 2: Iris Dement]
He ain’t got laid in a month of Sundays
I caught him once and he was sniffin’ my undies
He ain’t too sharp, but he gets things done
Drinks his beer like it’s oxygen
He’s my baby and I’m his honey
I’m never gonna let him go
The duetist’s opening, “He ain’t got laid in a month of Sundays” sounds a bit like a taunting tease. She knows how enticing she is to him — I mean, he sniffs her panties! He’s not a great conversationalist but he’s great at “acts of service.” That’s the love language he speaks and she knows it. The last two lines are the same as his, so we gather from this that they’re equally crazy in love with each other.
Hearing John Prine’s and Iris DeMent’s voices meld together and compliment one another in the chorus draws me into the song even more. Over the past few months, I’ve found myself memorizing the lyrics so I can sing along.
In spite of ourselves, we’ll end up a-sittin’ on a rainbow
Against all odds, honey, we’re the big door prize
We’re gonna spite our noses right off of our faces
There won’t be nothin’ but big old hearts dancin’ in our eyes
I love the optimism of this chorus. Basically, yes baby, we’re flawed and crazy and imperfect and that’s okay because our love is beautiful. “Cut off your nose to spite your face” is a popular English idiom: even though this couple endures a lot of trials and tribulations, when it comes down to it, what’s left is their love for each other as shown in the “big old hearts dancin’ in our eyes” line.
The teasing, self-deprecating, funny, whimsical lyrics keep on coming:
[Verse 3: John Prine]
She thinks all my jokes are corny
Convict movies make her horny
She likes ketchup on her scrambled eggs
Swears like a sailor when she shaves her legs
She takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’
I’m never gonna let her go
[Verse 4: Iris Dement]
He’s got more balls than a big brass monkey
He’s a whacked-out weirdo and a lovebug junkie
Sly as a fox and crazy as a loon
Payday comes and he’s howlin’ at the moon
He’s my baby, I don’t mean maybe
Never gonna let him go
We get more insight into how she takes her eggs and that she’s a tough woman. We find out that he’s a hopeless quirky romantic and loves money more than she does. They’re randy, rowdy, in love, and going to sing about it. They’re grateful for each other — they know “we’re the big door prize.”
The chorus is repeated a couple of times after these verses and John Prine says in the outro: “In spite of ourselves.”
I love listening to music, but I often forget to do so. Looking back, I realize I’ve been fortunate to be around music enthusiasts and musicians in one way or another throughout my life. I don’t always like what others are listening to but I often find music finding me, that is a love match. That’s how I feel about John Prine. How did I miss him for so long? It’s time to go down the rabbit hole of John Prine duets with musicians like Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris, Patty Loveless, Steve Earle, Lyle Lovett, and many more.
Often, lyricists are full of wisdom. Here are a few John Prine quotes that sing to my heart.
I feel basically good about my career because it’s remained constant. What I do has never been especially in vogue or gotten high on the charts. At the same time, I haven’t had to stop performing any of my music because it aged in style. — John Prine
I guess what I always found funny was the human condition. — John Prine
This diamond of a quote belongs in the heart of all creatives:
I think if you write from your own gut, you’ll come up with something interesting, whereas if you sit around guessing what people want, you end up with the kind of same schlock that everybody else has got. — John Prine
May John Prine rest in peace. May John Prine’s music live on.
Does music ever find its way to you? What are some of the songs that have made an impression on your head and heart?