Rock and Roll Book Club: John Prine's 'Beyond Words'

Bill DeVille with John Prine's 'Beyond Words.'
Bill DeVille in The Current's studio with John Prine's 'Beyond Words.' (Jay Gabler/MPR)

Since he turned 70 last year, there has been kind of a renaissance going on with songwriter John Prine. He released an album of duets called For Better, or for Worse, which featured guests like Lee Ann Womack, Miranda Lambert, and Iris DeMent. He's also been writing songs with Dan Auerbach and he's set to play Eaux Claires Festival with Bon Iver this summer before playing Northrop in September.

If you're a fan of John Prine, I might recommend his first-ever songbook, called Beyond Words. You don't necessarily have to be a Prine completist to find a space on your coffee table for this one.

You'll find plenty of Prine's Prine-isms and lots of his commentary tracing the evolution of his songs, with copies of handwritten lyrics and chords to over 60 tunes. It features over 100 photos, bad haircuts and all!

The book even features a photocopy of a legendary horrible review in a Washington, D.C. newspaper that featured the headline, ENTERTAINING AS A DOG BITE! The writer calls Prine "the former Chicago mailman turned composer/singer whose melodies are so similar they can barely be told apart and whose voice is like poor quality sandpaper." That review alone is worth the book's price! The book also features a copy of Abigail Van Buren being pranked in her own Dear Abby column with lyrics from Prine's satirical classic "Dear Abby."

There are lots of photos of Prine with friends like his late buddy Steve Goodman and of a very young Bonnie Raitt. Prine is a fan of old Polaroids. There are old shots of his parents and grandparents. There are handwritten and typed lyrics with changes in the margins. We also learn about the origins of his made-for-Dr.-Demento classic "Let's Talk Dirty in Hawaiian"!

His pal Kris Kristofferson said, "If God's got a favorite songwriter, it's John Prine." We almost lost him a couple of times to cancer, but he's like the old Timex watch, he takes a lickin' and keeps on tickin. I think it's safe to say you'll find Beyond Words far more entertaining than a dog bite!

The five best quotes in Beyond Words
(according to Jay Gabler)

"My Aunt Margaret told us if you smell cucumbers get out of [the woods], because those ain't cucumbers, they're snakes."

"I don't know what you would call [this] hairstyle. The wind was blowing, hopefully."

[posing with his album Bruised Orange and three women dressed as oranges] "Record companies take you so literally. On Record Store Day, they dressed these girls up as oranges. They looked more like pumpkins. We invited them back to the hotel. The oranges were stuffed with old Rolling Stone newspapers."

"I never wanted to put my name on the neck of a guitar because I can't play above the third fret."

"The hardest thing was to accept the compliments — to go from nothing to 'You're a genius.'"

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