Sam Stone and John Prine Defeat the New Birth

It’s about a week since John Prine died due to complications from the COVID-19 virus. Yesterday, I finished writing a piece on my other blog about the problems I had understanding Mennonite faith/life because I was blinded by the fundamentalist born-again religion I was born into. I’ve been thinking quite a lot about how exactly that particular brand of Christianity failed me, and I plan to write a bit more about it soon.

In my last post, I wrote: “Here, precisely, is the problem I always had with the faith I was raised in: it has nothing important to say about how I should live the vast majority of my daily life in this complex world.”

Today my friend (and third cousin) Steve Martin sent me the link to a video of a John Prine concert. As I watched Prine play his song Sam Stone, there were tears in my eyes as usual, and I thought: this is the sort of truth about the world that the faith I was raised in had nothing to say about. This is the sort of truth that drove me to find more adequate ways to understand what was going on in this world and what we might do about it.

I didn’t know John Prine’s songs when I abandoned the Jesus of the fundamentalists, but there were others. Kris Kristofferson and Willy Nelson and Johnny Cash come to mind. And those are just the songwriters. We could also talk about John Steinbeck, Jack Kerouac, Ken Kesey, Gunter Grass, and so many more.

John Nelson Darby, George Whitefield, the Wesley Brothers, and Billy Graham just can’t stand up to what these guys have to say. Here’s John Prine’s Sam Stone:

Sam Stone came home,
To the wife and family
After serving in the conflict overseas.
And the time that he served,
Had shattered all his nerves,
And left a little shrapnel in his knees.
But the morhpine eased the pain,
And the grass grew round his brain,
And gave him all the confidence he lacked,
With a purple heart and a monkey on his back.

There’s a hole in daddy’s arm where all the money goes,
Jesus Christ died for nothin I suppose.
Little pitchers have big ears,
Don’t stop to count the years,
Sweet songs never last too long on broken radios.

Sam Stone’s welcome home
Didn’t last too long.
He went to work when he’d spent his last dime
And soon he took to stealing
When he got that empty feeling
For a hundred dollar habit without overtime.
And the gold rolled through his veins
Like a thousand railroad trains,
And eased his mind in the hours that he chose,
While the kids ran around wearin’ other peoples’ clothes…

There’s a hole in daddy’s arm where all the money goes,
Jesus Christ died for nothin I suppose.
Little pitchers have big ears,
Don’t stop to count the years,
Sweet songs never last too long on broken radios.

Sam Stone was alone
When he popped his last balloon,
Climbing walls while sitting in a chair.
Well, he played his last request,
While the room smelled just like death,
With an overdose hovering in the air.
But life had lost it’s fun,
There was nothing to be done,
But trade his house that he bought on the GI bill,
For a flag-draped casket on a local hero’s hill.

There’s a hole in daddy’s arm where all the money goes,
Jesus Christ died for nothin I suppose.
Little pitchers have big ears,
Don’t stop to count the years,
Sweet songs never last too long on broken radios.

Source: LyricFind
© Warner Chappell Music, Inc

About Rick Martin

fish swim, birds fly daddies yell, mamas cry mean dogs snarl and bite I write (apologies to Mary Gauthier)
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