After the massive success of 2018’s Tree of Forgiveness and the tour behind it, John Prine started a new album. The first song he recorded was “I Remember Everything,” a gorgeous ballad where he looks back at snapshots from his life — both onstage and with his family — while trying to stay grounded in the present: “Got no future in my happiness/Though regrets are very few,” he sings. “Sometimes a little tenderness/Is the best that I could do.”
The song, produced by Dave Cobb, couldn’t be a better goodbye from Prine, who died in April from complications from COVID-19. With a loping melody and shades of “My Way,” Prine showcases his gift of making small details fully significant, from an out-of-tune guitar to blades of grass. It all adds up to a content look back on his life. When I was lucky enough to interview him, Prine talked about finding “parallel emotions,” putting a series of disconnected subjects together to convey a bigger idea — “Lake Marie” is an example. Here, Prine looks back on life not as a series of achievements or milestones — he remembers swimming pools of butterflies “that slipped right through the net,” and catching a glimpse of his lover in the morning light.
The song could have featured heavy strings or epic production tricks, but Cobb keeps it simple, stripping everything away except for John and his guitar. It was the perfect call, resulting in a hauntingly beautiful final message from one of America’s greatest songwriters.
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