I first heard Charley Patton thirty years ago, on a two-LP compilation called The Story of the Blues, which I won in a contest. My adolescent ear was immediately sucked in by the mystery, the wit, the slyness, and the expressive variety of the performances of Blind Boy Fuller, Memphis Minnie, Texas Alexander, Leroy Carr, Barbecue Bob, Bessie Smith, Big Joe Turner, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Otis Spann, Blind Willie McTell, and the rest.
Prine radiates a sense of well-being, along with a sort of amused nonchalance toward potential disaster. This is a good thing, because the Coupe, as it turns out, has no passenger-side safety belt. Or rather it has the shoulder belt, but the thing on the seat into which it is supposed to latch is missing. I noticed this awhile back, and it worried me for a few minutes. But then I thought, If you’re going to buy the farm it might as well be in a ’77 Coupe de Ville with John Prine.
One evening in Nashville, a man walks down the railroad tracks, singing, and his voice rolls through the heavy air. In Meridian, Mississippi, a child runs barefoot in dry grass, chasing lightning bugs—yellow lights that disappear just as his hands reach toward them.