When I Get To Heaven


The music world lost one of its heavyweights on Tuesday, April 7, when raspy-voiced folksinger-songwriter John Prine passed over to the other side. Prine, whose ingenious lyrics focused on the human condition and were almost always poignant, irreverent, angry and comic, died in Nashville from complications of the Coronavirus. However, apparently aware of his deteriorating health due to cancer, he penned his final ballad, “When I Get To Heaven,” late last year.


“When I get to heaven, I’m gonna shake God’s hand, thank him for more blessings than one man can stand. Then I’m gonna get a guitar and start a rock-n-roll band, check into a swell hotel; ain’t the afterlife grand?” (“When I Get To Heaven” – John Prine – 2019)


Prine’s passing came as quite a shock to the music world, coming on the heels of Bill Withers’ death on March 30.


While you didn’t often hear Prine’s songs played on the radio, his legions of fans gobbled up millions of his 19 studio albums and live albums and followed him to concert venues, worldwide. He received 12 Grammy Award nominations, beginning in 1972 as Best New Artist for his self-titled debut album and ending this year with the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award. Of his 12 Grammy nominations, he won three, beginning in 1991 with Best Contemporary Folk Recording for “The Missing Years,” again in 2005 for “Fair & Square” and this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award.


Embarrassingly, I have to admit that I only own one of John’s albums, his Grammy-winning, self-titled “John Prine” release from 1972, which has been critically acclaimed, not only by me, but by actual music critics such as former L.A. Times music critic Robert Hilburn and myriad others in the music industry, and highly praised by Bob Dylan.


The highlight of this album has to be “Sam Stone,” a powerful song written – following Prine’s two-year stint in the Army during the Vietnam War – about a retuning Vietnam vet.


“Sam Stone came home to the wife and family after serving in the conflict overseas. There’s a hole in daddy’s arm where all the money goes, Jesus Christ died for nothing I suppose… and the gold roared 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 people’s clothes… but life had lost its 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.”


Also embarrassingly, I never got to see John Prine in concert. Too bad he never played anywhere nearby, like John Denver did when he played his “Rocky Mountain High” concert on the slopes at Snow Valley in July 1990 and when the Beach Boys had their “Mile High Beach Party” on the slopes in September of that year. It would be totally cool if they (The Beach Boys, obviously not John Denver) could play there again when this pandemic winds down.


Keep it flyin’ Uncle Mott