Morning Music: Blue Umbrella

John Prine - Sweet Revenge

One more day for John Prine. As I spent time listening to him trying to find something, I was reminded why I love that first album. It really is the best stuff he ever did. He grew as a songwriter, but that album is far more positive than anything he did afterward. Even in sad songs like “Hello in There,” he’s talking about something touching and beautiful.

Today, I offer up “Blue Umbrella” off Prine’s album Sweet Revenge. And frankly, it’s not one of his best. But it’s so evocative that I can’t help myself.

The Clueless Guy

It reminds me a lot of Dr Hook in that it’s hard to take it seriously. Prine seems to be making fun of a certain kind of guy. You probably know him — although it could be a gal too, even though they are less common.

They have many failed relationships and are in a constant state of confusion about why this is. What’s so funny (or annoying) about this guy is that everyone tells him what the problem is: the women who leave him, his friends, his family, even online quizzes he takes.

It reminds me of the scene in The Man with Two Brains where Steve Martin asks to be given a sign if there is anything wrong with his feelings for Dolores. There’s a loud moaning, “No!” The house shakes, the lights go out, the painting spins, they are explosions and the wind whips at him. And after it, he says, “Just any kind of sign. I’ll keep on the lookout for it.”

That’s the guy in this song: he thinks he can figure out the seasons if only he had an extra one, despite the fact that he gets to experience the seasons over and over.

But just like with “Sylvia’s Mother,” the song is both heartfelt and hilarious.

Sweet Revenge album cover mage via Amazon under Fair Use.

2 thoughts on “Morning Music: Blue Umbrella

  1. That’s the only signed copy of a album I ever owned.

    When I moved to Minnesota, I wasn’t sure if/when I could figure out how to ship my LPs out from my mom’s garage. So I had no music. (Besides a next-door guy who constantly played Hall & Oates at top volume.) The first thing I did when I found work was buy Prine’s best-of collection. And the first song I heard on it was “Sabu Visits The Twin Cities Alone.” Perfect.

    Later, my mom lost her job, and asked if she could sell my albums to come up with money for raising my kid brother. Without thinking, I said “yes.” If I had thought about it, I would have said “but not the signed Prine album!”

    Decades later, that brother married a woman who called Mrs. James a loser, to her face, for having married me. Almost has a John Prine song feel to it, that’s the way that the world goes ’round.

    Incidentally — I’ve heard that some writers signing their newest books are dicks about it, only signing the ones they’re promoting. Prine was totally cool with people bringing old LPs.

    I’ve been absolutely astonished at the level of love people have been expressing for Prine. I always thought it was a near-secret fandom. Seems to have been far wider.

    I think it’s because Prine had a country-music voice without the country-music bullshit. Country music can be beautiful. But most country singers are as fabricated as televangelists. If you like country music, but hate the bullshit, Prine’s just the absolute go-to. Apparently a ton of newer country singers believe so, too. Bonnie Raitt was ahead of the curve on this.

    • There is definitely a tradition of treating fans well in country music. But no one was as great about his audience as Jonathan Richman. The only person I ever had a bad experience with was Lou Reed, and I suspect I would have been disappointed if he had been otherwise. I wrote about it back in 2013.

      Sorry about the Prine album!

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