Donald & Lydia

“They’re just very shy, too shy to introduce themselves, nobody introduced them so they kinda fell for each other just in their dreams.”John Prine (1034)
“Well, like I say, my guide for the song was “Lonesome Death of Hattie Carol.” Just in terms of the character and what the character’s doing. And then the chorus could be a moral for the whole thing. I had the characters in my mind but I brought them together. Somewhere in boot camp I’d seen the character Donald. And in an army town where I was stationed, I think Louisiana, I’d seen Lydia. And mostly they just formed together in my mind.”John Prine (1269)

Hello In There

“I had heard John Lennon sing ‘Across The Universe’ and there was a lot of echo on his voice and it made me start thinking about hollering into a hollow log or something going, “Hello, Hello, Hello in there. Is there anybody in there?” That’s kinda what the song came out of. Then it became something you would find out by having a conversation with somebody. Get them to talk about stuff. A lot of elderly people have a whole lot of stories to tell but they need somebody to ask them what they are.”John Prine (1034)

Sam Stone

“I’d just gotten out of the service. I got drafted in January of ’66 just after LBJ had committed or gone from 23,000 troops in Vietnam to 250,000 and everybody who just got drafted thought, “that’s where we’re going.” They sent me to Fort Polk, Louisiana to trawl round the swamp so I figured, “this is where I’m going,” they’re teaching you all of this, you know. And when it came the day for us to get our orders, me and three other guys got our orders for Germany. I’m still dancing. About five of my buddies who got drafted at the same time, a lot of them ended up in Vietnam, they came home but none of them were ever the same people, regardless of whether they were in combat or anywhere near it. Just being over there going day after day with nothing happening then you’d be walking to get a beer with a buddy and he’d step on a mine. It was like this tension and then they had nothing to do so they just got high all the time. They’d come home and it’s almost like the way people talk about being incarcerated – when they get out they don’t tell them how to live out on the street…you’re training to go into the military is so intense, they take your individuality away from you then they leave you hanging like that when you get out. You still think you’re supposed to jump when a siren goes off. But I had different guys, they all had different stories and I wanted to explain to myself what was happening with the veterans coming back from Vietnam. I saw a thing on the news one night where vets came home from Vietnam via San Francisco, some protestors spit on them and stuff which didn’t sit right by me. I tried to right a song about vets from their perspective.”John Prine (1034)
“There’s no one person who was the basis for Sam Stone, more like three or four people; like a couple of my buddies who came back from Vietnam and some of the guys I served with in the army. At that time, all the other Vietnam songs were basic protest songs, made up to slap each other on the back like “Yeah, this is the right cause.” I don’t remember any other songs that talked about the soldiers at all. I came up with the chorus first and decided I really liked the part about the “hole in daddy’s arm.” I had this picture in my mind of a little girl, like Little Orphan Annie, shaking her head back and forth while a rainbow of money goes into her dad’s arm. I think I invented the character of Sam Stone as a story line just to get around to that chorus.”John Prine (1035)
“I was trying to say something about our soldiers who’d go over to Vietnam, killing people and not knowing why you were there. And then a lot of soldiers came home and got hooked on drugs and never could get off of it. [For the next line – Ed] I was just trying to think of something as hopeless as that. My mind went right to “Jesus Christ died for nothin’, I suppose.” I said, “That’s pretty hopeless”.”John Prine (1268)
“Well, I had just gotten out of the service myself. I got drafted with about six of my best friends, and some of them got sent to Vietnam. Everyone I knew, they got back, they came back. They all speak of, especially if they’ve been in for a very long time, of how difficult it is to be back on the street. And how difficult it is be to accept freedom once you get used to living incarcerated. So all my friends that were over there were affected, like I said. I wasn’t writing about anybody specific. I made up the character of Sam Stone, obviously, just cause he rhymed with ‘home’. But I remember a story in the papers about some soldiers coming home from Vietnam in San Francisco they landed. And some people at the airport – I don’t know if they were protesters or hippies, or what – but they were spitting on them. Saying they shouldn’t be over there killing babies and stuff. And I was totally repulsed by that. And here, mainly, I was against the way. And I was for all the hippies and didn’t mind burning the flag and stuff, you know? I mean, to blame a soldier – maybe because I was one – I felt like, gee, you don’t know what you’re talking about. To blame the guys who are going over there. Because they didn’t run to Canada and say they’re not gonna fight for their country. But that just seemed really awkward and stupid to me. So I wanted to explain through a fictional character what it might be like to come home. Not to be there, because I was never in Vietnam. I was stationed in Germany. And I was drafted at a time when most people were being sent to Vietnam, and I thought I was going there for sure. But when the day came that they gave me orders to go overseas, I was thankful for it. Whereas other guys who got sent to Germany, as soon as they got there, they put in for Vietnam. They didn’t want to be in Germany, they wanted to be in combat. And I’d just say, “You guys are nuts. It’s not John Wayne time”.”John Prine (1269)

Dear Abby

“I was in Europe and my first wife and I stopped in Rome for the day. I wanted a newspaper and all they had was the International Herald Tribune which is all the tragic news in the world crammed into six pages with no sports results and no comics. And yet here’s “Dear Abby.” She was the only relief in the whole paper, and that’s where I wrote most of the song—in Rome, Italy that is. Years later somebody took the verse about the guy whose stomach makes noises, wrote it just out of kilter enough so it didn’t rhyme, and send it to “Dear Abby.” And she answered it in her column. She suggested that he seek professional help. She got loads of letters from people who knew the song and told her she’d been had.”John Prine (1035)

Illegal Smile

“I have to confess, the song was not about smokin’ dope. It was more about how, ever since I was a child, I had this view of the world where I can find myself smiling at stuff nobody else was smiling at. But it was such a good anthem for dope smokers that I didn’t want to stop every time I played it and make a disclaimer.”John Prine (1035)


“I wrote it for my father mainly so he would know I was a songwriter. Paradise was a real place in Kentucky, and while I was in the army in Germany, my father sent me a newspaper article telling me how the coal company had bought the place out. It was a real Disney-looking town. It sat on the river, had two general stores, and there was one black man in town, Bubby Short. He looked like Uncle Remus and hung out with my Granddaddy Ham, my mom’s dad, all day fishing for catfish. Then the bulldozers came in and wiped it all off the map.”John Prine (1035)

Sabu Visits The Twin Cities Alone

“I wrote this song about Sabu the elephant boy and I realized afterwards that the song was about me on the road but I didn’t know it at the time.”John Prine (1034)

Speed Of The Sound Of Loneliness

“I wrote that song to explain something to myself. I was going through a relationship that was breaking up. I had a picture from the cover of ‘Life’ magazine of the guys who broke the speed of sound on the ground and they had the G-forces pulling the guy’s face back and I felt that was my heart. So I was trying to explain how you do that, how you get to the point of stretching your heart out like that in a relationship.”John Prine (1034)
“I had in mind..years ago in ‘Life” magazine they had this picture of an astronaut on the Bonneville salt flats, he was breaking the land speed record and all these G-forces were pulling at his face. I felt like the guy in this song, that’s what his heart was doing, as if all these G-forces were pulling on it if that makes any sense to you.”John Prine (1221)

Angel From Montgomery

“It’s a song about a woman who feels older than she is.”John Prine (1034)
“I had this really vivid picture of this woman standing over the dishwater with soap in her hands, and just walking away from it all. So I just kept that whole idea image in mind when I was writing the song and I just let it pour out of that character’s heart. I was a huge Hank Williams, Sr. fan and I knew he was from Montgomery. And I think that’s where I thought the woman was from in this image that I had, this woman with the soapsuds on her hand. She lived in Montgomery, Alabama and she wanted to get out of there. She wanted to get out of her house and her marriage and everything. She just wanted an angel to come to take her away from all this. And her memory of this cowboy she had once – or whether she had him or not – it doesn’t matter now.”John Prine (1269)

Egg & Daughter Nite, Lincoln Nebraska, 1967 (Crazy Bone)

“Me and this buddy of mine, we was out fishing in Arkansas for Rainbow Trout and it was a Thursday afternoon and we weren’t catching anything. My buddy sits back in the boat and he goes, “Yeah, I remember on Thursday’s back in Nebraska, me and my buddies used to hang out at the roller rink ‘cos that was the night that the egg farmers came to town and they’d drop their daughters down there and we’d make time with the country girls while their farmers were off selling eggs in town. We used to refer to Thursday night as ‘egg and daughter night’.” I thought that’s too good to pass up, I gotta write a song about that. I don’t know where the ‘crazy bone’ part came from.”John Prine (1221)

Far From Me

“I wrote this song about the first girl that ever broke up with me. I don’t think any songwriter forgets that time. I decided I had to write this song to get her back – I mean revenge, I didn’t want her to come back after that!”John Prine (1221)

Christmas In Prison

“This song is more about spending Christmas with the wrong person.”John Prine (1221)

When I Get To Heaven

“I used to smoke like crazy, I smoked a pack a day for 35 years until I got cancer. I stopped but I never lost my taste for cigarettes. This song – I thought where in the hell can I smoke a cigarette. Heaven! There couldn’t be “no-smoking” in heaven. Why have a heaven if you can’t smoke. That’s how the idea of the song came about.”John Prine (1221)