Behind the song: “Summer’s End” by John Prine

The change of seasons offers a promise of renewal turned towards the future. But often that promise depends on the high cost of painful thinking. Moving forward means parts of the past will be left behind, and John Prine’s evocative “Summer’s End” highlights poignant moments that stop progress in its tracks.

Like Prine, the legendary songwriter seized the opportunity here and through the album. Tree of forgiveness, to tell someone else’s story. Carefully, he puts himself in the shoes of someone who longs for a lost loved one. Simple yet transcendent image examples shape a story of grief. The end of summer is around the corner just flying / Swimsuits are on the line just drying, he recites with characteristic candor. The verses evoke the emptiness of the holidays after a loss:

Valentine’s Day breaks hearts and random minds / This old Easter egg has no leg to stand on / Well I can see you can’t win by trying / And New Years Eve will make you cry.

Co-written with Pat McLaughlin, “Summer’s End” was nominated for Best American Roots Song at the 60th Annual Grammy Awards and was honored by the American songwriter as Best Song of 2018.

A poet for the masses, Prine uses empathy to tell widely resonant stories. When he started in 1971, the artist established himself as a prolific storyteller. A young man from a small town in Illinois surprised his superiors when he explored themes such as middle-aged southern housewives (“Angel From Montgomery”), destruction of archaic farmland of Kentucky (“Paradise”) and the loneliness of the elderly (“Hello over there”). Prine’s knack for harnessing subjective emotion led to an 18-album career that touched countless lives. Although he left this world too soon, Prine’s craftsmanship will endure through his influence on previous generations.

Prine’s lyrical dexterity on display throughout “Summer’s End” allows most listeners to find a home in some of the sentiments. To go further, he created a music video that told a more unique story of suffering. To bring the song to life, Prine brought in documentary filmmakers Elaine McMillion Sheldon and Kerrin Sheldon, best known for Oscar nominations. Heroin). The husband and wife duo approached their first music video project as if they were doing their documentary work. It meant using the resources available to them like West Virginia – people, land, homes – to create a visual story.

“We reacted to things more than we organized things,” McMillion Sheldon told the Tennessee in a 2018 interview. We certainly tried to make a plan; we had a script, but in many scenes the best moments were the spontaneous ones.

Sitting next to an empty chair, Prine begins to scratch the intro. The following scenes show a young girl being raised by her grandfather after the death of her mother. The depicted situation remains cryptic until a brief flash of a TV report on the opioid crisis confirms viewers’ fears about the direction of this devastation. In the Appalachians and in other deeply affected regions of the country, this grandparent-student-grandchildren is a common family dynamic.

While video footage is not so universal, it is nonetheless important. In fact, Prine felt it was the hushed nature surrounding this specific injury that made this video message critical. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there were nearly 70,000 opioid overdose deaths in 2018, up from 38,329 in 2010. The US Department of Health and Human Services estimates that two drug overdose deaths in three in 2018 involved an opioid. The missing parent in this phenomenon is called a member of the “lost generation”.

“The opioid crisis is tearing American families apart,” John Prine wrote in a press release when the video was released. “I love what Elaine and Kerrin did with my song for this video. I hope a lot of people will see it.

The video is dedicated to “Max”, the son of Nashville Mayor Megan Barry, who died in 2017 from a combination of drugs, including opioids. Prine considered Max to be part of his extended family and performed at his memorial. Credits include information for people with addictions, providing links and phone numbers for SAMHSA and MusiCares.


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