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Singer John Prine Is Glad Literate Lyrics Are Back

April 20, 1989|MIKE BOEHM

Singer-songwriters are becoming the rage in pop music once more, just as they were in the early 1970s, when the term "singer-songwriter" was coined for the likes of James Taylor, Joni Mitchell and Jackson Browne.

As a singer-songwriter who went through it all the first time around, John Prine is pleased, but not inordinately excited, that a quieter, more intimate and literate form of music making is coming back into vogue with such success stories as Tracy Chapman and the Cowboy Junkies.

(Prine's moving 1971 song, "Angel From Montgomery," is a bookend of sorts to Chapman's breakthrough hit, "Fast Car." Where Chapman's "Fast Car" protagonist is a young woman desperately dreaming of a way to break out of an urban economic trap, Prine's heroine is rural, aging and on the verge of giving up altogether. The woman's refrain, "Just give me one thing that I can hold onto/To believe in this living is just a hard way to go," is one that Chapman's character would immediately second.)

"It's nice," Prine said of the success of a new generation of singer-songwriters as he spoke over the phone Tuesday from the airport in Nashville, where he was about to fly west for a round of shows that will bring him to the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano for a 3-night stand this weekend. "It can't hurt at all. It's better than me having to go heavy metal."

Prine, whose penchant for the wry tag line extends to his songwriting, was not about to go metallic before the current folk resurgence hit. Now that it is here, he said, he doesn't have any particular stratagems in mind for capitalizing on it.

Folk-based music oriented toward the singer-songwriter "just keeps coming back after a while," said Prine, who wore the "new-Dylan" mantle for a time after his excellent 1971 debut album. "I haven't really changed too much of what I've been doing over the years. I'm just on the straight and narrow, keeping on working, and if I get to a bigger audience, that's fine."

Business as usual for Prine means waiting for new songs to dawn on him . . . and waiting and waiting some more.

"Sometimes I won't write a song for 14 months," he said. "Then I'd write four or five at once. It doesn't bother me as much as it used to. I'm just getting used to how I do it." Prine said that a fertile streak back around Christmas put him close to a full deck of songs for a new album. "I'm waiting for two more, and I'll get in the studio this summer," he said, with an eye toward a fall release. If he meets that deadline, it would be only the fourth album of new songs for Prine during the 1980s.

As his own boss, Prine hasn't had to meet somebody else's production schedule. He formed Oh Boy Records in 1981, and has released and marketed his last three albums on the label. The most recent one, "John Prine Live," was the first live album of his career. Prine recorded all but four of its 19 songs at the Coach House in March, 1988, during his last shows there.

"I won't be lip-syncing the record," in the upcoming return concerts, he promised.

After all these years as a do-it-yourselfer, Prine is getting some attention from high places in the music industry. Through his friend, record producer Jack Clement, Prine struck up an acquaintance with U2, the superstar Irish rock band. He said that has led to Oh Boy being distributed in Europe by U2's label, Mother Records.

Prine said he also has been discussing a U.S.-distribution deal with major American labels.

"That way we can be in all the stores instead of people having to get directions down the block to find out where the record is," he said.

GOING TO EXTREMES: Having been refused permission to sell alcoholic beverages, Club Postnuclear in Laguna Beach will experiment with letting people bring their own drinks to a dance-concert April 27 that the club is billing as a private party for patrons 21 and over. Owner William (Max) Nee said that the "private party" designation means it will be up to the club's doorman to extend or withhold invitation to those who want to get in--as is commonly done at private dance clubs in New York City. It is the latest attempt by Postnuclear to attract a 21-and-older (i.e., drinking) audience, which Nee has said is important to the club's success.

Postnuclear is calling its Thursday night over-21 club Extreme 775, after its address, 775 Laguna Canyon Road. The plan is to showcase new, innovative dance-rock talent. The inaugural night next Thursday will feature A-Politiq, from Santa Barbara.

The Laguna Beach City Council has denied Club Postnuclear permission to sell beer, despite Nee's promises to take a variety of measures to promote responsible drinking and prevent drunk driving.

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