He Was in Heaven Before He Died*

When I was a child, my family would travel.

No wait. That’s not it. Let’s try again.

When I was a child I walked like a child, I talked like a child.

Hold on. That’s not it either. One more time.

When I was a child my family sent me to the greatest summer camp ever. Krislund. There were no canoes, no horses, no archery, ropes courses, water slides, or electricity.

There were cabins, tents, wagons (I was a devout Upper Upper West guy.), a field, an unheated pool, a mountain, and…

… a bonfire. Man, the bonfire. If you were there, you remember. If you weren’t, let me help. Picture your regular campfire. Now multiply that by 30. Now take that fire to the 10th power. Then, add some trees. Not branches. Trees.

But it wasn’t the flames that made the bonfire. And for me it wasn’t the watermelon. (Be careful crossing the road.). Skits. Songs.

Every group did a skit. Some were great. Some were awful. It was camp. Many groups sang a song. Some were great. Some were awful.

But then the counselors would sing. This is where the fire became a bonfire. They would get up with denim and flannel and Gibson Hummingbirds or Ovations and belt out some of the best tunes ever. For me there were three songs that stood out. Play one of these at a bonfire and you had made it. You might as well be at Carnegie Hall. 1) Seagull by Bad Company. Did I mention this was the early 80’s? 2) Heart of Gold by Neil Young. Rock the harmonica and the guitar? Yes, please. And 3) this simple singable tune that I didn’t know the name of at the time, just the refrain: Daddy, won’t you take me back to Muhlenberg County, down but the Green River where PARADISE lays.

John Prine died last week. I have loved his music since my brother (who has introduced me to everything from the Clash to Lloyd Cole) brought home a John Prine album in 1984. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen him play live. He was a storyteller with a guitar. And my God, I love a good story.

After John Prine died, I received some kind notes from friends who knew how much I loved his music. I also saw posts from friends on social media, offering their tributes, and this was where it gets interesting.

I found that I needed to restrain myself. I wanted to comment on other posts, saying, “That’s nice, but I REALLY loved John Prine!” I would see a quote from a song and think, “That’s nice, but why are you using that line? ——————— would have been a much better tribute.” I wanted to add these comments as though I had any firmer grasp on the music, life and legacy of someone whom I had never met. I restrained myself. Instead, I clicked LIKE.

***

Grief is a strange experience, communal and yet personal. Whether it’s a family member or celebrity, we have our memories that we share and those we carry ourselves.

We grieve collectively and yet individually, for each of us has our own connection, 

Our own story.

Our own memory.

Our own lyric.

***

We are all grieving right now.

In one way or another. We all are.

Someone else’s experience might be different from yours.

Don’t criticize.

Like.

Be kind.

Peace.

 

 

*I was going to call this Thoughts on Grief During a Season of New Life, but how much fun is that?

4 thoughts on “He Was in Heaven Before He Died*

  1. Saw John Prine & The Cowboy Junkies in Portland, OR with our brother Mike Harrison. Must have been ‘91. Top 5 show for me. Loved that dude too. Thanks for your stories bro.

  2. Wasn’t it some counselor named Stu (sp?) who we first heard belt out “Seagull”, hammering away at an Ovation in of our first years at camp? Bearded, wearing a safari or cowboy-type hat? Or did he do “Freedom”? Or both? The image is etched in my head….

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