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Celebrated Singer-Songwriter John Prine Died At 73
John Prine, the ingenious singer-songwriter who explored the heartbreaks, indignities and absurdities of everyday life in “Angel from Montgomery,” “Sam Stone,” “Hello in There” and scores of other indelible tunes, died Tuesday at the age of 73.
Prine died of complications from the coronavirus at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, his wife said Wednesday. Despite “the incredible skill and care of his medical team,” she said, "he could not overcome the damage this virus inflicted on his body."
Fiona Whelan Prine said last month that she had tested positive for COVID-19 and she has since recovered, but her husband was hospitalized on March 26 with coronavirus symptoms and had to be put on a ventilator before he died.
Winner of a lifetime achievement Grammy earlier this year, Prine was a virtuoso of the soul, if not the body. He sang his conversational lyrics in a voice so rough that even he didn't like the sound all that much, until it was softened by the throat cancer surgery that disfigured his jaw late in life.
He joked that he fumbled so often on the guitar, taught to him as a teenager by his older brother, that people thought he was inventing a new style. But his open-heartedness, eye for detail and sharp and surreal humor brought him the highest admiration from critics, from such peers as Bob Dylan and Kris Kristofferson, and from such younger stars as Jason Isbell and Kacey Musgraves, who even named a song after him.
In 2017, Rolling Stone proclaimed him “The Mark Twain of American songwriting.”
Prine began playing as a young Army veteran who invented songs to fight boredom while delivering the U.S. mail in Maywood, Illinois. He and his friend, folk singer Steve Goodman, were still polishing their skills at the Old Town School of Folk Music when Kristofferson, a rising star at the time, heard them sing one night in Chicago, and invited them to share his stage in New York City. The late film critic Roger Ebert, then with the Chicago Sun-Times, also saw one of his shows and declared him an “extraordinary new composer.”
Suddenly noticed by America’s most popular folk, rock and country singers, Prine signed with Atlantic Records and released his first album in 1971.
“I was really into writing about characters, givin’ ‘em names,” Prine said, reminiscing about his long career in a January 2016 public television interview that was posted on his website.
“You just sit and look around you. You don’t have to make up stuff. If you just try to take down the bare description of what’s going on, and not try to over-describe something, then it leaves space for the reader or the listener to fill in their experience with it, and they become part of it.”
He was among the many promoted as a “New Dylan” and among the few to survive it and find his own way. Few songwriters could equal his wordplay, his empathy or his imagination.
“I try to look through someone else’s eyes,” he told Ebert in 1970. His characters were common people and confirmed eccentrics, facing the frustrations and pleasures anyone could relate to. “Sam Stone” traces the decline of a drug-addicted Vietnam veteran through the eyes of his little girl. “Donald and Lydia” tells of a tryst between a shy Army private and small-town girl, both vainly searching for “love hidden deep in your heart:”
They made love in the mountains, they made love in the streams
they made love in the valleys, they made love in their dreams.
But when they were finished, there was nothing to say,
‘cause mostly they made love from ten miles away.
“He writes beautiful songs,” Dylan once told MTV producer Bill Flanagan. “I remember when Kris Kristofferson first brought him on the scene. All that stuff about Sam Stone the soldier-junkie-daddy, and Donald and Lydia, where people make love from ten miles away -- nobody but Prine could write like that.”
Prine’s mischief shined in songs like “Illegal Smile,” which he swore wasn’t about marijuana; “Spanish Pipedream,” about a topless waitress with “something up her sleeve;” and “Dear Abby,” in which Prine imagines the advice columnist getting fed up with whiners and hypochondriacs.
“You have no complaint,” his Abby writes back:
You are what you are and you ain’t what you ain’t
so listen up Buster, and listen up good
stop wishin’ for bad luck and knocking on wood!”
Prine was never a major commercial success, but performed for more than four decades, often selling his records at club appearances where he mentored rising country and bluegrass musicians.
“I felt like I was going door to door meeting the people and cleaning their carpets and selling them a record,” he joked in a 1995 Associated Press interview.
Many others adopted his songs. Bonnie Raitt made a signature tune out of “Angel from Montgomery,” about the stifled dreams of a lonely housewife, and performed it at the 2020 Grammys ceremony. Bette Midler recorded “Hello in There,” Prine’s poignant take on old age. Prine wrote “Unwed Fathers” for Tammy Wynette, and “Love Is on a Roll” for Don Williams.
Others who covered Prine’s music included Joan Baez, Johnny Cash, John Denver, the Everly Brothers, Carly Simon, George Strait, Miranda Lambert, Norah Jones and Old Crow Medicine Show.
Prine himself regarded Dylan and Cash as key influences, bridges between folk and country whose duet on Dylan’s country rock album “Nashville Skyline” made Prine feel there was a place for him in contemporary music. Though mostly raised in Maywood, he spent summers in Paradise, Kentucky, and felt so great an affinity to his family’s roots there he would call himself “pure Kentuckian.”
Prine was married three times, and appreciated a relationship that lasted. In 1999, he and Iris DeMent shared vocals on the classic title track of his album “In Spite of Ourselves,” a ribald tribute to an old married couple.
In spite of ourselves we’ll end up a-sittin’ on a rainbow
Against all odds, honey we’re the big door-prize
We’re gonna spite our noses right off of our faces
There won’t be nothin’ but big ol’ hearts dancin’ in our eyes
Prine preferred songs about feelings to topical music, but he did respond at times to the day’s headlines. Prine’s parents had moved to suburban Chicago from Paradise, a coal town ravaged by strip mining that inspired one of his most cutting protest songs, “Paradise.” It appeared on his first album, along with “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore,” which criticized what he saw as false patriotism surrounding the Vietnam War.
Many years later, as President George W. Bush sent soldiers to war, Prine had a song for that, too. In “Some Humans Ain’t Human,” he wrote: “You’re feeling your freedom, and the world’s off your back, some cowboy from Texas, starts his own war in Iraq.”
Prine’s off-hand charisma made him a natural for movies. He appeared in the John Mellencamp film “Falling From Grace,” and in Billy Bob Thornton’s “Daddy and Them.” His other Grammy Awards include Best Contemporary Folk Recording for his 1991 album “The Missing Years,” with guest vocalists including Raitt, Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen and Phil Everly. He won Best Traditional Folk Album in 2004 for “Beautiful Dreamer.”
Prine didn’t let illness stop him from performing or recording. In 2013, long after surviving throat cancer, he was diagnosed with an unrelated and operable form of lung cancer, but he bounced back from that, too, often sharing the stage with DeMent and other younger artists. On the playful talking blues “When I Get to Heaven,” from the 2018 album “The Tree of Forgiveness,” he vowed to have the last laugh for all eternity.
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?
His survived by his wife, Fiona, two sons Jack and Tommy, his stepson Jody and three grandchildren.
AP Entertainment Writer Kristin M. Hall contributed to this report from Nashville, Tennessee.
Amber Alert For Missing 12-Year-Old Girl In San Antonio
San Antonio, Texas police believe Amisty Serenity Danielle Monrreal is in grave or immediate danger. She's been missing since around midnight.
She's around 5 feet tall. She weighs around 90 pounds and has brown hair and brown eyes.
She was wearing a black shirt with number 45 on the front. She's wearing blue jeans and black and gray Jordan tennis shoes.
If you have any information regarding this abduction, please call San Antonio police at (210) 207-7660.
Texas Dems File Lawsuit Against Governor Abbott To Allow Vote-By-Mail Election
Tuesday the Texas Democratic Party filed a lawsuit in United States District Court in San Antonio against Governor Abbott, Secretary of State Ruth Hughes, the Travis County Clerk, and the Bexar County Elections Administrator in their ongoing effort to demand mail-in voting during the coronavirus pandemic, specifically for the upcoming July 14th Primary runoff elections.
The Democrats are asking the judge to ease vote-by-mail restrictions to allow those social distancing to also vote this way.
Currently only those over 65, Injured or disabled or out of the country are allowed to mail in ballots.
The Texas Democratic Party contends that state law should allow any voter to cast a mail-in ballot given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa issued the following statement:
“As we face the worst public health crisis in a century, neither Governor Abbott nor Secretary of State Hughes have issued concrete guidance to county election officials on whether voters can cast a mail-in ballot during the coronavirus pandemic. Republicans have opposed vote-by-mail without providing any credible justification. Current law allows any voter whose health may be injured by voting in person to vote by mail. As our city and county leaders issue shelter-in-place orders and our residents are urged to stay inside, we must protect Texans’ ability to cast a ballot without jeopardizing their health or safety.”
Court Upholds Texas Governor's Elective Surgery Ban Closing Abortion Clinics
Tuesday, in a 2-1 decision, a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the district court was wrong to grant emergency relief to protect access to abortion care. This allows Gov. Abbott to use his COVID-19 order to block access to abortion. This is the latest twist in a lawsuit brought by Texas abortion providers — represented by Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and the Lawyering Project — to protect access to care.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton today applauded the decision. “I thank the Fifth Circuit for their attention to the health and safety needs of Texans suffering from this medical crisis. Governor Abbott’s order ensures that hospital beds remain available for Coronavirus patients and personal protective equipment reaches the hardworking medical professionals who need it the most during this crisis,” said Attorney General Paxton. “Texans must continue to work together to stop the spread of COVID-19, and we must support the health professionals on the frontlines of this battle.”
“This is not the last word—we will take every legal action necessary to fight this abuse of emergency powers. Texas has been trying to end abortion for decades and they are exploiting this pandemic to achieve that goal,” said Nancy Northup, president & CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Texas women are not waiting for the courts—those who are able to travel are already leaving the state to get care. Others are tragically being left behind. The need for abortion care doesn’t disappear during a pandemic.”
Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president and CEO, Planned Parenthood Federation of America released the following statement:
“This is unconscionable. Patients are already being forced to put their lives in harm's way during a pandemic, and now will be forced to continue doing so to get the health care they need. Abortion is essential, it’s time-sensitive, and it cannot wait for a pandemic to pass. Instead of playing politics during a pandemic, Gov. Abbott should be focusing on the health care needs of his constituents. Planned Parenthood won’t let this injustice stand. Our patients deserve better. We’ll use every tool at our disposal to fight this harmful order and protect our patients’ health care.”
There is a district court hearing on the matter scheduled for April 13.
Texas Prisons Taking Extra Precautions In This Age Of COVID-19
The numbers are rising, but as of Tuesday 26 inmates and 29 employees and contractors have tested positive for the virus. 106 inmates are awaiting test results and are in medical isolation.
More than ten thousand, 600 who may have been exposed and are not showing symptoms are in lockdown. Jeremy Desel with the Texas prison system says inmates in ten different units are making cotton masks. "Being worn by anyone, employee or staff who sets foot in any of our prison units. They're also optionally being worn by everyone in administration offices and they're being worn by parole officers in the field."
One correctional officer, who worked in Huntsville died Monday. The 49 year old had a heart attack April first and tested positive for the virus in the hospital. Desel says they are emphasizing to their employees the importance of social distancing everywhere they go. "To practice what their counties say as far as stay at home orders. Despite the fact that we're an essential agency, we know the importance really is how these employees take care of themselves on the outside, to help keep the virus on the inside."
Click here to check the latest numbers from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice
Governor Abbott Closes State Parks, Historical Sites For Social Distancing Purposes
AUSTIN (1080 KRLD) - Texas Governor Greg Abbott on Tuesday directed the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and Texas Historical Commission to close all state parks and historical sites in an effort to stop the spread of coronavirus.
The Governor made the decision to close the areas to the public in an effort to "strengthen social distancing practices and prevent gatherings of large groups of people," said a release from the governor's office.
The closure will begin at 5:00 pm today and the parks will reopen at the direction of the Governor.
"Social distancing is out best tool to curb the spread of COVID-19 and save lives," said Governor Abbott. "The temporary closure of our state parks and historic sites will help us achieve this goal by preventing the gathering of large groups of people. I urge all Texans to continue to stay at home except for essential services as we respond to COVID-19."
Texas Medical Association Asks for Liability Relief For Doctors
The Texas Medical Association wants the Governor to restrict lawsuits against doctors who are putting their health on the lines due to COVID-19.
It would extend liability relief that already exists for physicians that volunteer in emergencies. where the standard of care for a lawsuit would be reckless conduct or intentional wanton or willful misconduct.
TMA president, Dr. David Fleeger says "we're asking that that standard be applied to physicians taking care of COVID-19 patients because of the anticipated problems with the surge that's coming up."
Fleeger, president of the TMA says times have changed. He says those who are doing the best they can for their patients should not have to worry about getting sued. He says resources may be thin and in this emergency, doctors will do the best they can with what they have.
A letter asks this order be put in place though September first.
Supreme Court Won't Hear Case Of 'Texas Seven' Inmate
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up the case of a Texas death row inmate who argued he should get a new trial because the judge who presided over his case was biased against Jews.
The justices said they would not hear the case of Randy Halprin, one of the so-called Texas 7, but Halprin's claims of bias and that he should get a new trial are still under review by a Texas court.
Halprin and six others escaped from prison in 2000. The group later robbed a sporting goods store in Irving, Texas, fatally shooting responding police officer Aubrey Hawkins as they fled.
Lawyers for Halprin, who is Jewish, said an investigation found that Judge Vickers Cunningham, who presided over his trial, was anti-Semitic and frequently used racial slurs.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that the facts Halprin presented are “deeply disturbing” but she nonetheless agreed with the decision not to hear his case. Sotomayor noted that Halprin's execution has now been stayed while state courts consider whether "bias infected his trial.”
Sotomayor wrote that the Constitution clearly requires a fair trial before an unbiased judge.
“I trust that the Texas courts considering Halprin’s case are more than capable of guarding this fundamental guarantee,” she wrote. She suggested the Supreme Court could still take the case at a later date.
Tivon Schardl, a lawyer for Halprin, said in a statement that lawyers would "continue to seek a new, fair trial.”
A Dallas Morning News story revealed in 2018, when Cunningham was running for county commissioner, that he had created a trust for his children that withheld money if they chose to marry someone who was not white or not Christian. The story also quoted a former campaign worker who said Cunningham used a racial slur to describe black defendants. In response, Cunningham denied ever using the racial slur and said in a statement that his “views on interracial marriage have evolved” since he set up the trust in 2010.
Halprin’s lawyers followed up with an investigation of their own which found that Cunningham used racial slurs not only to talk about African Americans but also to talk about Jews and Latinos. The investigation also found he allegedly threatened not to pay for his daughter's law school tuition unless she broke up with a Jewish boyfriend.
Halprin and death row inmate Patrick Murphy are the only members of the Texas 7 that are still alive. One of the men committed suicide as authorities closed in on the group following their escape. Four others were convicted and executed. Murphy's execution has also been stayed.
Chaos And Scrambling In The US Oil Patch As Prices Plummet
NEW YORK (AP) — In Montana, a father and son running a small oil business are cutting their salaries in half. In New Mexico, an oil truck driver who supports his family just went a week without pay. And in Alaska, lawmakers have had to dip into the state's savings as oil revenue dries up.
The global economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic has devastated the oil industry in the U.S., which pumps more crude than any other country. In the first quarter, the price of U.S. crude fell harder than at any point in history, plunging 66% to around $20 a barrel.
A generation ago, a drop in oil prices would have largely been celebrated in the U.S., translating into cheaper gas for consumers. But today, those depressed prices carry negative economic implications, particularly in states that have become dependent on oil to keep their budgets balanced and residents employed.
“It's just a nightmare down here,” said Lee Levinson, owner of LPD Energy, an oil and gas producer in Tulsa, Oklahoma. “Should these low oil prices last for any substantial period of time, it's going to be hard for anyone to survive."
Crude prices recovered some ground, trading at around $28 a barrel Friday, after a week in which President Donald Trump tweeted that he expects Saudi Arabia and Russia will end an oil war and dramatically cut production.
On Friday, he met with oil executives but there were no announcements, and prices remain well below what most U.S. producers need to stay afloat.
Among the latest casualties is Whiting Petroleum, an oil producer in the Bakken shale formation with about 500 employees that filed for bankruptcy protection Wednesday. Schlumberger, one of the largest oilfield services companies, slashed its capital spending by 30% and is expecting to cut staff and pay in North America. And Halliburton, another major oilfield services provider, furloughed 3,500 of its Houston employees, ordering workers into a one-week-on, one-week-off schedule.
“You will see a tremendous loss of jobs in this industry,” said Patrick Montalban, owner of Montalban Oil and Gas, based in Montana, who along with his son is slashing his salary in half and plans to cut the his remaining employees’ salaries by 25% and end their health insurance benefits.
The impact is far-reaching. In Alaska, lawmakers recently passed a budget that sharply draws down a savings account that had been built up over the years when oil prices were higher. In New Mexico, where a third of the state's revenue comes from petroleum, the governor slashed infrastructure spending and will likely cut more in a special legislative session.
In Texas, which produces about 40% of the country's oil and employs more than 361,000 people, the picture is especially bleak. Three weeks ago, Bobby Whitacre, vice president of Impala Transport in Plano, Texas, was looking to hire a well site supervisor for $200 a day with paid time off. Now he’s had to lay off many of his workers.
“It’s dead. It’s dead as can be,” he said.
While many industries paralyzed by the coronavirus pandemic received help from a recent $2 trillion congressional relief package, the energy sector was largely left out. The American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry's main lobbying group, has maintained its free market philosophy, saying it does not want direct financial assistance from government. But the group did ask the federal government to relax environmental rules.
Some smaller producers would welcome financial relief.
“If the federal government is going to do something to help small businesses nationwide because of the problem with the coronavirus, we certainly don’t want to be excluded from that,” said Dewey Bartlett, Jr., president of Keener Oil & Gas and former Republican mayor of Tulsa.
Many oil producers big and small stopped the costly process of drilling new wells when prices plummeted, leaving all kinds of workers vulnerable to layoffs: drillers, attorneys, truckers who deliver sand or water for fracking and skilled tradesmen who make equipment for rigs, to name a few.
It was only two weeks ago when Sergio Chavira, a 33-year-old truck driver in New Mexico, was advertising on Craigslist for other drivers to help him haul crude oil, writing that there was “plenty of work.”
Not anymore. The husband and father of an 8 year old and a 5 year old hasn’t driven his truck for a week and is bracing for a drop in pay for what work is left.
“Now everything is slowing down,” Chavira said. “They give us less loads to haul every day.”
Checkers Inc., which administers drug and alcohol tests for oil industry employees in the heart of North Dakota’s oil patch, has seen its monthly screenings fall by more than half, said owner Janette McCollum, who reduced her full-time employees' hours to part-time in response. Along with the slowdown in clients, “companies are not wanting to pay their bills,” she said.
The oil industry was already logging hundreds of bankruptcies before the coronavirus hit, as producers struggled with weak global oil demand and high debt loads. Then the pandemic shut down travel as country after country started restricting flights in an attempt to bring the contagion under control.
World oil demand fell 7% in the first quarter, and is expected to fall 14% in the second quarter, according to IHS Markit. If that wasn't enough, OPEC and Russia couldn't agree on production cuts to prop up prices, so Saudi Arabia flooded the market with cheap oil. The kingdom slashed oil prices last month and vowed to ramp up production to more than 12 million barrels a day.
Many American shale producers feel targeted by Saudi Arabia, which they suspect of trying to put them out of business. And it could be working.
“We’re just burning through money down here," said Levinson, LPD Energy’s owner. "And how long we can last is anyone’s guess.”
Texas Rangers Get Corey Kluber in Trade from Cleveland
Rangers send Delino DeShields and pitching prospect Emmanuel Clase to the Indians
NBC 5 is reporting Corey Kluber led by example and excellence in Cleveland. The Texas Rangers are hoping he can do the same for them.
The Indians traded the two-time Cy Young Award winner -- and their unquestioned ace -- over the past six seasons to the Rangers on Sunday, a blockbuster deal that could dramatically change both teams.
In exchange for the 33-year-old Kluber, Cleveland received outfielder Delino DeShields and pitching prospect Emmanuel Clase, a hard-throwing 21-year-old with huge potential.
The stoic and steady Kluber has been one of baseball's most dominant pitchers since 2014, when he went 18-9 and won his first Cy Young. He got his second in 2017, going 18-4 and leading the AL with a 2.25 ERA.