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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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Happiness is being on the road again

By Roger Ebert November 16, 1986

Most people who are on the road all the time seem to be running from something. Willie Nelson seems to be looking for it. One of his best friends says Willie can't be happy for long unless he's going somewhere - by plane, car, train, bus, foot; it doesn't matter, just as long as he's in motion. One recent rainy day, Willie flew out of Austin, Texas, and spent some time in Chicago, and later that night laid his head to rest in New York City.

"I guess I'm just restless," he said here, stirring sugar into his black coffee in the middle of the afternoon. "It's difficult for me to stay in one spot for long. I really do like to get up and go somewhere, maybe because I've done it all my life. Billy Joe Schaffer has a line, about being so restless that moving's the closest thing to being free."

Nelson was wearing a trimmed-down version of the bushy beard he grew for "Red-Headed Stranger," his new movie, and he had his long hair in two braids -- he's letting it grow again, after cutting it short a few years ago. He was in Chicago to promote the movie, a labor of love that he filmed on his Texas ranch with the help of friends, neighbors, and a mysterious Boston woman who turned up one day with a check for $50,000. (The film's distributor has yet to book a Chicago area theater.)

He is a big star and he doesn't travel light. There must have been a half dozen business partners, assistants, publicists, movie distributors and old pals who checked into the hotel with him, but it was all so low-key I figured they took their tone from him, and he never seemed in a hurry about anything. I asked him if he still used the bus that was the co-star of "Honeysuckle Rose," or if he only used private planes now.

"I love the bus," he said. "You know you've been somewhere. Ham and eggs at dawn in some truck stop somewhere, if that's what you're hungry for. We live in the bus or in hotels a lot, and we like it. My life is very close to the autobiographical movies, `Honeysuckle Rose' and `Songwriter.' "

Those two movies demonstrated Nelson's strange ability, as a movie actor, to create a powerful character while scarcely seeming to raise his voice. Neither one was a box office hit; indeed, Willie Nelson's movie career has consisted of sleepers and lost films and projects producers lost interest in.

His first starring role was "Honeysuckle Rose," the 1980 saga of a hard-drinking country music star and the tug-of-war between his wife (Dyan Cannon) and girl friend (Amy Irving). Then came "Barbarosa" (1982), an offbeat Western about two legendary cowboys and their feud with a Mexican land baron. The studio didn't even want to release that one, even though co-star Gary Busey had recently won an Oscar nomination for "The Buddy Holly Story." Then in 1984 came "Songwriter," with Nelson and Kris Kristofferson in the story of a man determined to regain his independence from the pressures of the recording industry. And now here is "Red-Headed Stranger," inspired by Nelson's album of 11 years ago which tells the story of a preacher who tries t o tame an evil town, is abandoned by his wife, kills his wife and her lover, and then spends years in exile in the wilderness before riding back in to meet his fate in that same town.

Whatever it is that Nelson has as a movie actor, a lot of important directors have been attracted to it. The first movie was directed by Jerry ("Scarecrow") Schatzberg, the second by Fred ("Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith") Schepisi, the third by Alan ("Choose Me") Rudolph, and this one is the directorial debut of Bill Wittliff, who wrote the first two. In all of them, Nelson plays a recognizable version of himself, as a weathered, quiet, gentle man who gives hints of having suffered more than he should have, and being more cheerful than he has reason to be.

"The movie thing all started after a party one night in Nashville," Nelson said, remembering. "It was a fund-raiser for some ecological project Robert Redford was sponsoring, and the next day I found myself on the same plane with Redford, flying back to Los Angeles. He asked me if I had ever wanted to be in the movies, and I said, well, yeah, sure, I supposed so. I guess he already had me in mind for something."

That would have been Redford's "Electric Horseman" (1979), where Nelson's official film acting debut was short but unforgettable (he described a woman as being "able to suck the chrome off a trailer hitch"). Even after four starring roles, he said he's still not happy while he's making a movie: "It's difficult for me to sit in one spot for three months."

And it was difficult to make "Red-Headed Stranger," he added, because the role was so different from himself. "In the songwriter movies, I was basically just being myself. This one I had to stretch a little. But I wanted to make it. When I wrote the album for some reason I could see a movie being made of it. And I just felt like if it were to be made into a movie, I could probably play that character as well as anybody. I used to sing the song to my kids as a bedtime story."

It's kind of a grim story, with the preacher starting out with his high ideals and then murdering what he loved, and descending into self-destruction before he finally gets it together again.

"I think it shows how far down a person can go and then come back, regardless of who he is. And that even a preacher, who is a human being, can drop to that depth and then come back. The thing I wanted to avoid was just turning the movie into one long music video. There was plenty of music available, enough that we could put a song under every scene if we wanted to, but I fought with Wittliff over that. He wanted a lot of music. At first, I didn't want any music at all. I guess we met in the middle somewhere."

The result: an odd Western road picture, somewhat strangely cast (Morgan Fairchild plays Nelson's first wife, and Katharine Ross makes a rare film appearance as the widow who gives him new hope). Nelson spent years trying to finance the project. He described his troubles: "The movie calls for a raging black stallion and a dancing bay pony, and I bought them both when I started the project, but by the time I got the movie made, the dancing bay pony wasn't dancing too much and the raging black stallion wasn't raging too much."

Finally, he said, he and Wittliff pared the budget down to rock bottom and built the sets out back on Nelson's Texas ranch, and started shooting. One example of cutting corners: In the original script, the bad guys blew up the town's water tower, but in the finished version, they just open the tap and drain the water - saving the cost of a $40,000 explosion.

"To keep the thing going, we were writing hot checks at one point," Nelson said. "None of them bounced, though. I guess the people that got them just had enough faith to hold onto them until they figured they were good."

But you have a lot of money, don't you? You're rich and famous.

"Rich, I don't know about. I don't have that much money. I make a lot of money and I spend a lot of money. I have a lot of expenses. The music business brings the money in, and the ranches and various real estate that I have take the money out again. My ranch in Texas is not what you'd describe as a money-making proposition. I keep some pleasure horses there and I enjoy the hell out of it, but it's not a working ranch."

He poured himself some more coffee and smiled to himself.

"With `Red-Headed Stranger,' what saved us was the generosity of a woman in Boston named Carolyn Musar. I only mention her name because she hates it whenever I do. She happened to be a fan of mine, and she heard somewhere that we were short of money to finish this movie, and she told her lawyer, "Find out how much those guys need,' and she was on the set two days later with a $50,000 check as a loan. It came at just the crucial moment."

Nelson, who said he wasn't sure when the film would be released, said he was keeping busy. He was featured in a recent "Miami Vice" episode, he went to New York to be honored as "Man of the Year" by the Jewish United Fund, he was planning a tour, and he was still active on the follow-through for Farm-Aid (the fund- and consciousness-raising extravaganza he produced last summer in Champaign-Urbana, Ill.). All of this for a country singer who likes to call himself an outlaw. I asked him what "outlaw" meant to him, now that he was part of the establishment that had once rejected him.

"Freedom," he said simply. "Freedom to decide for yourself, whatever it is. I think that's why the term caught on so much with the public; it's not going the way someone tells you to go."

It also meant, for a lot of people during Nelson's earlier days, the wild-and-woolly lifestyle that he celebrated in "Honeysuckle Rose" (which was renamed "On the Road Again" for its TV and video reincarnation). In the movie, as - some said - in real life, Nelson and his sidekicks drank and partied their way from one stop to another, leaving a trail of empty bottles and broken hearts behind. But now the wild life has settled down considerably for many of country music's outlaws -- Nelson's pals Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings have all gone public with their decisions to stop drinking and/or drugging, and Hank Williams Jr. even wrote a song about how his rowdy old friends had mellowed. I asked Nelson if he would mind a question about his wild reputation.

"I'll answer any question."

Well, then, do you still live in the style that made "outlaw" famous?

"I drink less, much less. Moderation is the key. I used to overdo everything."

Is it hard to make the tours and live the life on the bus when you're cleaning up your act?

"I think it's important that you surround yourself with a bunch of guys who have the same head that you do, so you're all on a somewhat similar level, or when you hit the bandstand it's not gonna be right. The important thing is that we really do enjoy performing. Other people may call it work. I'm not happy for long unless I'm singing somewhere. Every show is different."

How do you write a song?

"The way it begins is in my head. A lot of things won't let you not write them. I don't actually write anything down for a long time, and so the test is, if I can remember it, it must be worth writing down. If I get out the pencil and paper, I'm already sold on it. But also, I have a belief that any song, if it was good once, it's still good. That's why I like to record a lot of other people's songs, standards, things like the `Stardust' album (a best seller from 1978)."

Did you get criticism in the country music world for recording "Stardust" and the other pop classics? Did people think that wasn't pure enough, from a country point of view?

"Not so much criticism as dubiousness. The `Stardust' album was not thought to be the greatest idea by a lot of people. But these were the songs I'd been playing all my life anyway. And in clubs, people would request `Stardust' and `Harbor Lights' and then turn right around and ask for `Fraulein,' `San Antonio Rose' or `Whiskey River.' People just like good music, a lot of different kinds of music. And I was singing `Stardust' a long time before I was singing country."

Somehow that doesn't fit the image.

"Oh, but it's true. I learned music from my grandparents, and they learned it by mail order from a place called," Nelson said, pausing, "I think the return envelopes said it was called the Chicago Musical Institution. They'd study under kerosene lamps every night. I watched them, they'd have their lessons out of the mail-order books, and then send them back through the mail, and finally they got their degrees. They were about 60 years old then. Sixty years old and still taking their lessons, still young enough to learn something. They had great spirit. I thought so.

"My granddad died when I was 6. He'd taught me some chords on the guitar. My grandmother played the piano and organ a little, but she was getting old and had arthritis. She taught my sister Bobbie how to play the piano, and I learned from her. I'd play guitar and she'd play piano, and that's when I first sang 'Stardust.' I learned it from her.

"I've been singing it since before I knew what it meant."

Did your grandmother live long enough to see you perform in public?

"Yes, she did. She would come to a place in Fort Worth called the Panther Hall Ballroom whenever I'd play there. She was in her 80s."

The afternoon was growing dark, and the rain was starting up again. Before long it would be time for Willie Nelson to head out for the airport again, and fly to New York. I asked him how it felt to be "Man of the Year."

"If they've named me that, there must be a few things they don't know about me," he said, and chuckled. "I guess I got it because of the Farm Aid thing, which is really one of the things I've done in my life that was a great thing. When I first got into the issue of family farms, I had no idea the problem was as severe as it was. I thought we'd do a benefit to call attention to the farmer thing, and Washington would say, `Oh, they're having a problem,' and the next day the whole thing would be worked out. But the problem is getting worse. Hundreds of farmers are going under every week."

Have you ever thought of running for office?

"Yeah. A long time ago. I was approached to run for senator from Texas, and I had to decide, and I decided not to. I'm an entertainer, and so the very fact that in order to become a politician you have to piss off half of the country didn't seem very smart. Why chop off half of your audience just so you could walk around and say, "I'm a senator'?"

And so that's how America lost its chance at the first outlaw senator. What about retirement?

"Yeah, I suppose I'll hang it up someday. Everybody does. But not this year or the next. When I do, I'd like to maybe buy me a little one-pump gas station somewhere in south Texas. You know, pretty far from town, and without much traffic."

If you're a Comcast customer, "Red-Headed Stranger" is streaming.

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Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?

On my walks in Lincoln Park, one of my favorite destinations is the Shakespeare garden at the south end of the ponds. Here a little path meanders through plantings of (allegedly) all the flowers mentioned by Shakespeare. On four boulders are mounted plaques bearing the words of his Sonnet #18. There are a few benches to pause upon, and often somebody reading a book. Not far away is the statue of Shakespeare. He has his back turned to the city and is regarding flower beds.

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate: Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, And summer's lease hath all too short a date: Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines, And often is his gold complexion dimm'd; And every fair from fair sometime declines, By chance or nature's changing course untrimm'd; But thy eternal summer shall not fade Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest; Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade, When in eternal lines to time thou growest: So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, So long lives this and this gives life to thee. Photograph of open workbook by Murky at flicker.com: "These are the notes I made on Shakespeare's 18th sonnet for my Open University course 'A103: Introduction to the Humanities'."

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Louis Malle: A do-it-yourself interview

After the screening at Telluride, September 1987: My Great Movies review of "Au Revoir, les Enfants." The film is on Instant Streaming at Netflix.

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Freddie Mercury: The Untold Story

This film, which played at Ebertfest, is by Rudi Dolezal from Vienna, one of Europe's leading directors of music videos. He met Freddie Mercury in that way and gained his agreement to make the film. Freddy's mother also agreed to participate. It is the first film involving Mercury's childhood in India and his identity as a Parsi, of Persian roots. To view this, you will need Veoh Web Player

Watch Freddie Mercury - The Untold Story in Entertainment  |  View More Free Videos Online at Veoh.com

Rudi, Chaz and me at his home in Vienna

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Public Edition #1

Edited by Marie Haws, Club SecretaryFrom Roger Ebert: Club members receive the complete weekly Newsletter. These are abridged and made public on the site three weeks later. To receive the new editions when they're published, annual dues are $5. Join here.From The Grand Poobah: Reader Steinbolt1 writes in: "Mark Mayerson has been putting together mosaics of all the scenes from specific Disney animated films, and is currently working through Dumbo. Each scene has the specific animator(s) who worked on the film listed above it. This is my favorite post on Dumbo, so far: Mayerson on Animation: Dumbo Part 5 "The only humans we've seen previously are in sequence 3. They are all white and wearing uniforms that clearly mark them as circus employees. When we get to this sequence, the only humans we see are black. As they are disembarking from a railroad car, we know that they are also employees, but they don't get uniforms. The roustabouts are the ones who do the heavy lifting, regardless of the weather. Why aren't the rest of the employees helping? I guess the work is beneath them. Let's not forget that the circus wintered in Florida, at the time a Jim Crow state." - Mark Mayerson; animator, writer, producer, director, Canadian.

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Public Edition #4

This free Newsletter is a sample of what members receive weekly.For Roger's invitation to the Club, go HERE Marie writes: some of you may recall seeing a custom-built "steampunk" microphone stand made for the group Three Days Grace, by sculptor Christopher Conte; there were pictures of it inside the #14 Newsletter.Born in Norway, Christopher Conte was raised and educated in New York, where he currently lives. After earning a Bachelors Degree in Fine Art, he began working in the prosthetics field making artificial limbs for amputees; which he did for 16 years as a Certified Prosthetist. At the same time, he worked in obscurity creating sculptures which reflected his love for biomechanics, anatomy and robotics. In June 2008, he left the field to begin his career as a full-time artist. And you can now view his work portfolio online...

The Sculpture of Christopher Conte

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At last, a trailer that doesn't give away the whole story

"House" is new in the Criterion Collection, so I figured it might be good. I looked at the trailer. This is the trailer. Your challenge, should you choose to accept it: Having not seen the film and working only from the trailer, explain WTF this movie is about.

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Richard Harris: Don't let it be forgot

By Roger Ebert / June 26, 1974

Richard Harris, dressed from head to toe in black, sprawled on the couch in his hotel suite and sang, not at all badly, a few warmup lines of "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning." It was afternoon, although apparently not for him, and he was in Chicago with Ann Turkel, his bride of 13 days, to promote a new movie they costar in.

The name of the movie is "99 44/100% Dead," and that is what most of its villains are, after they encounter Harris. Unlike the soap, however, they do not float, and the movie opens and closes with scenes of a macabre fraternity of the deceased: gangland victims encased in concrete and sent to wait at the bottom of the East River.

"The only way to view this movie," Harris explained, "is to see it as sort of a comic strip, to be enjoyed and laughed at on a strictly one-dimensional level. Once you ask yourself the first question about it, you're lost."

Harris plays the world's greatest hit man, who is imported to New York as a big gun in a war between Little Eddie and Fast Joey, or Little Joey and Fast Eddie ("We never quite explain who either one of them is"), and Ann Turkel plays his girl friend. She is a schoolteacher, who drives the getaway school bus.

"I was petrified," she said, looking, however, definitively the opposite on the couch next to Harris. "I had never driven a stick shift in my life before, and they gave me about two hours' lessons and set me loose in Los Angeles traffic."

"You almost killed the camera crew, luv," said Harris.

"I almost turned us over," she said. "They had a stunt man in the back, but I can't figure out how he was going to help me."

"He was scared shitless," Harris observed.

Their movie, which has been directed as sort of a cross between Steve Canyon and Fearless Fosdick, is a very flatsurfaced, exaggerated, popart fantasy by John Frankenheimer, whose other credits include "The Manchurian Candidate."

"When he sent me the script," Harris recalled, "I got to the line that said, 'This town isn't big enough for both of us,' and I threw it aside. What the hell kind of line is that? It went out with the 1930s. But then I thought if the script's so bad, what's a class director like Frankenheimer doing sending it to me? So I picked it up again, and got the joke. It's a comic strip put-on, done perfectly seriously."

It is the latest of a great many movies, most of them ("This Sporting Life," "Man in the Wilderness," "Camelot") successful for Harris, but it's Ann Turkel's first role. She's a Westchester County girl, daughter of a clothing manufacturer, who did a lot of modeling and television commercials before Frankenheimer saw her screen test, liked it and put her opposite Harris. Casting about for the most original question I could imagine, I asked if it had been love at first sight.

"Not exactly," said Ann, a tall and slender brunet with wide eyes and, sigh, lots of other qualities. "Actually, first sight was five years ago. We met then, but Richard doesn't even remember."

"I had my head up my . . . in the clouds," Harris explained.

"When he found out that I'd been cast for the movie, he wanted me fired," she said.

"There are too bloody many good actresses unemployed already, so why give this unknown a job, was my line," Harris said.

"There was an item in one of the London papers, all about Ann Turkel vs. the Ogre," Ann said.

"I looked up ogre in the dictionary and I didn't like it one bit," Harris said.

"We were both in London at the time and scheduled to fly to Los Angeles on the same flight," she said. "I was so frightened of Richard I changed my ticket to tourist class to escape him."

"That was unnecessary," Harris said, because I bloody well didn't fly back at all. Then Frankenheimer called me up and told me to stop being a bloody fool and trust his judgment, because he'd seen the screen test.

"By the time I finally walked on the set, I was feeling rather guilty, and so I sort of helped her, you know, and we became friends. But she still had her boy friend back in London. One day, after about six months, we were sitting by the pool, and I said, 'Ann, dearest, do you think there's something going on between us and we don't know about it?'"

"Maybe it's a case of opposites attracting," Ann said.

"That's it," said Harris. "She used to go out with tall, sleek, wellgroomed men, and I went out with buxom blonds. There are thousands of girls on the streets like the ones in Hollywood today, but not many girls of the more elegant type, refined . . . I think Annie has a real gift."

Their next movie together might be a sequel to his very successful "Man in the Wilderness," he said. That one grossed around $15 million and was about a civilized English man surviving in the wild.

"I almost got killed on that one," he recalled. "I was suspended from the top of the tepee for the manhood ceremony, and the rope broke and I fell. I could have landed in the fire or impaled myself on a buffalo horn, but I missed and landed between them. Remembering my early training in tavern brawls, I sprung quickly to my feet, because when you're on the floor, they kick you. Only THEN did I pass out."

Harris, it's been noted, is very likely the only living actor who has starred not only in a Doris Day picture ("Caprice") but also in a Michelangelo Antonioni picture ("Red Desert"). I asked if he brings the same acting techniques to both kinds of movies.

"The only advice I ever got on acting that did me any good," he said, "was a long time ago when I was just starting out and I made a picture in Ireland with James Cagney. It was called 'Shake Hands with the Devil.' I'll never forget, one day, Cagney summoned me to his suite at the Shelbourne Hotel for a couple of drinks.

"And then be said, 'Kid, you'll do OK. You'll make it.' Harris was doing his Cagney imitation. 'But remember this: When you're in a movie and they want you to go from one place to another, walk in a straight line. A straight line. That's how they'll know you're the star. Too many of these goddamned English actors are walking in curves all the time!"

Richard Harris at the Toronto Film Festival, 2001. (Photo by Ebert. Mentioned in obituary below.)

In Memory: Richard Harris.

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A conversation with Atom Egoyan

Atom Egoyan must be a wonderful teacher. (Photo by Roger Ebert) Egoyan on inspiration

Egoyan on erotic scenes

&nbsp Egoyan on Amanda Seyfried

Egoyan on Liam Neeson

Egoyan on Ingmar Bergman and the essence of cinema

Egoyan on preconceptions about actors

Egoyan on film versus video as a medium

Egoyan on the "tipping point"

Egoyan on why we're uneasy seeing famous stars in sex scenes.

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John Prine: American Legend

Through no wisdom of my own but out of sheer blind luck, I walked into the Fifth Peg, a folk club on West Armitage, one night in 1970 and heard a mailman from Westchester singing. This was John Prine.

He sang his own songs. That night I heard "Sam Stone," one of the great songs of the century. And "Angel from Montgomery." And others. I wasn't the music critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, but I went to the office and wrote an article. [ below ] And that, as fate decreed, was the first review Prine ever received.

From the Chicago Sun-Times, Friday, Oct. 9, 1970:

SINGING MAILMAN WHO DELIVERS A POWERFUL MESSAGE IN A FEW WORDS

By Roger Ebert

While "digesting Reader's Digest" in a dirty book store, John Prine tells us in one of his songs, a patriotic citizen came across one of those little American flag decals.

He stuck it on his windshield and liked it so much he added flags from the gas station, the bank and the supermarket, until one day he blindly drove off the road and killed himself. St. Peter broke the news:

"Your flag decal won't get you into heaven anymore; It's already overcrowded from your dirty little war."

Lyrics like this are earning John Prine one of the hottest underground reputations in Chicago these days. He's only been performing professionally since July, he sings at the out-of-the-way Fifth Peg, 858 W. Armitage, and country-folk singers aren't exactly putting rock out of business. But Prine is good.

He appears on stage with such modesty he almost seems to be backing into the spotlight. He sings rather quietly, and his guitar work is good, but he doesn't show off. He starts slow. But after a song or two, even the drunks in the room begin to listen to his lyrics. And then he has you.

He does a song called "The Great Society Conflict Veteran's Blues," for example, that says more about the last 20 years in America than any dozen adolescent acid-rock peace dirges. It's about a guy named Sam Stone who fought in Korea and got some shrapnel in his knee.

But the morphine eased the pain, and Sam Stone came home "with a Purple Heart and a monkey on his back." That's Sam Stone's story, but the tragedy doesn't end there. In the chorus, Prine reverses the point of view with an image of stunning power:

"There's a hole in Daddy's arm Where all the money goes..."

You hear lyrics like these, perfectly fitted to Priine's quietly confident style and his ghost of a Kentucky accent, and you wonder how anyone could have so much empathy and still be looking forward to his 24th birthday on Saturday.

So you talk to him, and you find out that Prine has been carryng mail in Westchester since he got out of the Army three years ago. That he was born in Maywood, and that his parents come from Paradise, Ky. That his grandfather was a miner, a part-time preacher, and used to play guitar with Merle Travis and Ike Everly (the Everly brothers' father). And that his brother Dave plays banjo, guitar and fiddle, and got John started on the guitar about 10 years. ago.

Prine has been writing songs just as long, and these days he works on new ones while delivering mail. His wife, Ann Carole, says she finds scraps of paper around the house with maybe a word or a sentence on them and a month later the phrase will turn up in a new song.

Prine's songs are all original, and he only sings his own. They're nothing like the work of most young composers these days, who seem to specialize in narcissistic tributes to themselves. He's closer to Hank Willilams than to Roger Williams, closer to Dylan than to Ochs. "In my songs," he says, "I try to look through someone else's eyes, and I want to give the audience a feeling more than a message."

That's what hapens in Prine's "Old folks," one of the most moving songs I've heard. It's about an elderly retired couple sitting at home alone all day, looking out the screen door on the back proch, marking time until death. They lost a son in Korea: "Don't know what for; guess it doesn't matter anymore." The chorus asks you, the next time you see a pair of "ancient empty eyes," to say "hello in there...hello."

Prine's lyrics work with poetic economy to sketch a character in just a few words. In "Angel from Montgomery," for example, he tells of a few minutes in the thoughts of a woman who is doing the housework and thinking of her husband: "How the hell can a person go to work in the morning, come back in the evening, and have nothing to say?"

Prine can be funny, too, and about half his songs are. He does one about getting up in the morning. A bowl of oatmeal tried to stare him down, and won. But "if you see me tonight with an illegal smile - It don't cost very much, and it lasts a long while. - Won't you please tell the Man I didn't kill anyone - Just trying to have me some fun."

Prine's first public appearance was at the 1969 Maywood Folk Music Festival: "It's a hell of a festival, but nobody cares about folk music." He turned up at the Old Town School of Folk Music in early 1970 after hearing Ray Tate on TV. He did a lot of hootenannys at the Fifth Peg and at the Saddle Club on North Av., and the Fifth Peg booked him for Sunday nights in July and August.

In those two months, the word got around somehow that here was an extraordinary new composer and performer. His crowds grew so large that the Fifth Peg is now presenting him on Friday and Saturday nights; his opening last weekend was a full house by word-of-mouth. He had a lot of new material, written while he was on reserve duty with the Army in September.

There's one, for example, called "The Great Compromise," about a girl he once dated who was named America. One night at the drive-in movie, while he was going for popcorn, she jumped into a foreign sports car and he began to suspect his girl was no lady. "I could of beat up that fellow," he reflects in his song, "but it was her that hopped into his car."

A concert with John's friend Steve Goodman.

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