‘That’s the way that the world goes ‘round’

Published 3:13 pm Wednesday, April 8, 2020

You can gaze out the window get mad and get madder,
Throw your hands in the air, say ‘What does it matter?’
But it don’t do no good to get angry,
So help me I know.
For a heart stained in anger grows weak and grows bitter.
You become your own prisoner as you watch yourself sit there
Wrapped up in a trap of your very own
Chain of sorrow.
– John Prine, Bruised Orange

We’d all do well to keep the words of John Prine in mind, who passed away due to COVID-19 related complications Tuesday night, as this “invisible enemy” takes its toll on our country, taking from us our sense of normalcy, our sense of connection to our friends and neighbors and, in the worst of circumstances, our loved ones.
It’s easier said than done to heed Prine’s words during these uncertain times though, it’s much easier to feel angry or sad when our way of life has been uprooted by the necessary measures we all need to take to slow the spread of this virus, particularly when it has starved so many of us for human connection – the thing Prine wrote about so well in the vernacular of his music.
I’ve often turned to music during difficult moments in my life and the songs of John Prine have never been too far out of reach. His razor-sharp wit comes through in each line delivered in his signature raspy voice as he sings of the miscellaneous woes of the human condition, never failing to elicit an emotional response, at least from me.
Prine’s songs always feel deeply rooted in the soil of everyday life, he wrote many of his early songs while delivering mail in Chicago.
It was there he first garnered acclaim – Chicago Sun-Times film Critic Roger Ebert, who happened into one of Prine’s shows after he walked out of a movie theater because “the popcorn was too salty”.
“Prine appears on stage with such modesty he almost seems to be backing into the spotlight,” wrote Ebert in his 1970 review of the then-unknown singer-songwriter. “He sings rather quietly and his guitar work is good, but he doesn’t show off. He starts slow. But after a song or two, even the drunks in the room begin to listen to his lyrics. And then he has you.”
Soon after, Prine earned the respect of other singer-songwriters, like Bob Dylan, who called his music “pure Proustian existentialism – midwestern mind-trips to the nth degree,” and Kris Krisofferson, who said, “He’s so good we may have to break his thumbs.”
I learned of Prine’s passing after a particularly lousy day at the office in which, likely due to the power outage that left downtown in the dark the first half of the day, I experienced computer difficulties which forced me to do a great deal of the work I’d already done a second time.
I went home, took a shower to slough off the banality of the work day, and when I stepped out of the shower and checked my phone I saw a text from my girlfriend, asking me if I’d heard that John Prine passed away.
After learning the news, I went to my record player and played a couple of Prine’s albums, “Bruised Orange” followed by “Diamonds in the Rough.”
As I let the music wash over me, the trivialities of my “bad” day at the office seemed laughable.
It’s my hope that, once the coronavirus has passed, the whole thing seems like a bad day that makes us appreciate our good and even just ordinary days.
A bad day at work hopefully won’t seem so bad because at least we got to go to work in the first place; neck hugs and handshakes will hopefully be tighter after months and months of standing six feet away; and we’ll linger a little longer at gatherings of way more than 10 people as we look back on a time when it wasn’t safe to do so.
But until the day comes when we can hopefully all look back at the coronavirus as a “bad day,” we’ll just have to take it one day at a time and take care of one another as best as possible, even if it is from six feet away.

That’s the way that the world goes ‘round.
You’re up one day and the next you’re down.
It’s half an inch of water and you think you’re gonna drown.
That’s the way that the world goes ‘round.