Remembering when Bob Dylan covered John Prine in 1991
John Prine, one of the greatest American songwriters, sadly passed away earlier this week leaving the whole music world in mourning. Given his impact on folk music, we decided to have a rummage around the Far Out archives and found this glorious footage from 1991 which shows Bob Dylan covering Prine’s ‘People Puttin’ People Down’.
Throughout Prine’s early career he was part of a wave of artists who were labelled ‘The Next Dylan’, partly, it has to be said, because of the musician’s unique storytelling capabilities. However, Prine was always an artist who did things on his own terms and was very much his own man.
Prine was very much a songwriter’s songwriter, with Dylan listing him as one of his favourite of all time: “Prine’s stuff is pure Proustian existentialism,” Dylan once told MTV producer Bill Flanagan. “Midwestern mindtrips to the nth degree. And he writes beautiful songs. I remember when Kris Kristofferson first brought him on the scene. All that stuff about Sam Stone the soldier junky daddy and Donald and Lydia, where people make love from ten miles away. Nobody but Prine could write like that. If I had to pick one song of his, it might be Lake Marie.”
Remarkably, when Dylan’s son Jakob was interviewed by USA Today in 2010 he was asked to name his role model, where he surprising to go for Prine rather than his old man: “He found a singular voice, and nobody can replicate it,” he said. “I would hope to have that down the line. Prine was born with something special, but he also dug deep.”
When asked about how it felt to have his work labelled as ‘Proustian existentialism’ by Dylan in a 2017 interview with the Star Tribune, Prine divulged: “I take it as a big compliment even if I’m not entirely sure what it means. I sure do admire Dylan a whole lot. He had a big influence on me, just like he did on others, coming up as a writer in the 1970s. He blazed a trail for a lot of us. I’ve always thought that Bob Dylan opened the door when there was no door, and then left it open for others to come through. I don’t think I’d be a songwriter if it wasn’t for him.”
As Prine openly admits, Dylan was the one who forged the path that he would follow so to then have his idol become a fan of his work and speak in such superlatives about him was obviously a moment of sheer pride. Not only did Dylan speak about Prine, he also covered his track ‘People Puttin’ People Down’ in 1991 whilst performing on the Rome date of his European tour and the result is pure magnificence.
Take a few minutes out to raise a glass to John Prine and watch Dylan’s cover of the track, below.