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Twelve Memorable Characters Created by Poet Laureate John Prine

Updated on July 9, 2020

No Songwriter Painted Poetic Portraits As Vividly As John Prine


Illinois last week selected as its poet laureate John Prine, whose death in April makes it a posthumous honor. Before his life of nearly eighty years was taken through the coronavirus, Prine managed to create hundreds of great lyrics.

Along with those magnificent musical poems, Prine also left us with dozens of memorable characters. Here are twelve of my favorite.

1. Safety Joe
Fair and Square's closer amusedly admonished the title guy, who lived with a "safety belt around his heart."

2. Sam Stone
Vietnam War vet Stone, according to this track from the debut, becomes a drug addict and has trouble holding jobs.

3. Dear Abby
He did not really invent this advice columnist, but Prine certainly added to her immortality with letters from the likes of Bewildered, Unhappy, Noisemaker, and Just Married.

4. Donald (and Lydia)
Army private Donald seeks private moments after midnight in order to make love, albeit from the miles away, to the daughter of Virginia and Ray.

5. Loretta's Husband
"Hello in There" says this aging narrator from the debut, whose life seems to have lost its importance since retirement.

6. Cathy the Waitress
Although she has not yet spelled it out, her guy with the beat up old car knows this spoon-cleaner is in the verge of dumping him.

7. Barbara Lewis Hare Krishna Beauregard
As the title indicates, the title girl in this track from Common Sense has left her small town to join a religious cult.

8. James Louis
Wanda's illegitimate son, the boy with two first names, suffers a tragic ending that makes the "Six o'clock News."

9. Billy the Bum
On Diamonds in the Rough, this catchy tune is one of those gems referred to in the title.

10. Iron Ore Betty
This fruity female is among the produce that make up the Bruised Orange album.

11. Forbidden Jimmy
Another of the Jameses about whom Prine wrote, this one's story is found on Common Sense.

12. Space Monkey
Prine would become more fascinated with space on his later records, but this astronaut with Cuban bananas appeared on his first live album.


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