Sunday, March 29, 2020

Down By the Green River Where Paradise Lay

I was holding it together pretty well but John Prine is in the hospital in critical condition with COVID-19 and now I am not ok at all.

My older siblings play guitar and sing.  My brother who was murdered when I was twelve was a musician.  "Paradise" and "Angel from Montgomery" are songs that I knew first from hearing them sung by people that I love.  "Paradise" is my favorite; it expresses so many things, love of the land, the unimaginable sorrow of loss, the pain and destruction created by greed.  It would not be an exaggeration to say that this song shaped the way I view the world.

Meanwhile we have politicians questioning whether funding for the arts helps people.  The truth is, art, music, literature and the rest, that's what defines being human.  It's the first thing our ancestors did when that spark of whatever it was that turned them into us lit upon their brow.  Art is what helps us hang on to being human in the face of every terrible thing that could ever happen, and has ever happened.  We need art in this moment more than we need anything that isn't food, water, shelter, or wearing a PPE getup.  It will hold us together against everything that tries to make us fly apart.

I'm not writing an elegy for Mr. Prine.  He is yet among the living, and I don't know him well enough for that.  I am saying his words and his songs are important to me in ways that are distinct from but bound up in my own life.  That's how art and music weave their magic. 

Make me an angel that flies from Montgom'ry

Make me a poster of an old rodeo

Just give me one thing that I can hold on to

To believe in this living is just a hard way to go

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