Seeing John Prine on a bus stop bench reminded me once again of his passing last year and also, through a rather convoluted train of thought—actually I’m not sure why they call it a “train of thought” since, at least in my case, it’s more like a “spaghetti of thought” where one noodle twists and turns through the sauce of my brain and can easily lead to another that just happens to be adjacent, but that’s another story—took me back to a night when I was in Cork, Ireland.
John Prine and Ireland will always be linked in my mind mainly because I worked with an Irish woman whose husband is a professional drummer, and he and Prine were good friends, which means I was two degrees of separation from meeting John Prine, and also his songs tended to find the funny things in life’s darker moments, which is also something I associated with the Irish. If you’re still following this spaghetti of thought there’s some parmesan coming because this story does get a bit cheesy.
Back in the late fall of 1990 I was in Cork as part of a trip around eastern Ireland. It was late at night and I’d had my fill of fish and chips and Guinness, because, well, what else would you do in Cork? I was walking down a cobblestone street to my hotel and passed by a group of street performers. There were two guys with guitars, another with a fiddle, of course, because this was Ireland, and a woman who was singing. There was a good crowd gathered around them but for some reason they thought they needed one more because they yelled at me.
“Oi! You! Get over here!”
The Guinness I’d had wouldn’t allow me to turn down a request like that, laced as it was with a thick brogue so I walked over.
“Give us a request, then,” one of the guitarists said.
Unable to say no but unable to think of anything appropriately Irish I blurted out, “Hey, do you know Hotel California?”
They laughed and said something about how nice it was to have an American in their midst, and one started singing, “Such a lovely place, such a lovely place,” but one of the guitarists told me they’d need me to help them remember the rest of the words. I can’t carry a tune in a bucket but for reasons that are a whole other pot of spaghetti I knew Hotel California by heart and together all of us, the performers and the crowd, made it through.
I was trying to save my Irish coins for my collection but I threw my last punt, now replaced by the euro, into their hat. The guitarist threw his arm around me and said, “Cheers, mate, I’m moving to America soon. Maybe we’ll see each other again.”
I didn’t get his name and in the dark didn’t even get a good look at his face and I thought it unlikely we’d even end up in the same state, let alone anywhere we might cross paths, but, now that I write this, it occurs to me that, as a musician, he likely would have come to Nashville. Maybe at some point he even worked with John Prine.