Bill Withers, left, and John Prine. Both climbed from working-class roots to become touchstone singer-songwriters of the 1970s.

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One came earlier with a feet in his arm wherein all the money goes; the other came earlier with no arm at all.

Such to be the soldiers john Prine and also Bill Withers wrote into existence almost 50 years ago to highlight the horrific toll of the Vietnam battle — Prine in “Sam Stone,” about a drug-addicted veteran through “a hundred-dollar habit,” and also Withers in “I Can’t create Left-Handed,” in i beg your pardon the injured narrator asks his buddy come take under a letter to his mother.


Bill Withers, known for acoustic soul hits “Lean ~ above Me” and “Ain’t No Sunshine,” died Monday of heart complications, his family said Friday.

Both song — the former from Prine’s self-titled 1971 debut, the last from Withers’ 1973 “Live at Carnegie Hall” — space vivid reminders of an era as soon as Americans were compelled to sweet the value of person life against the perceived require to defend our separation, personal, instance freedoms. (Sound familiar?) however as cold as every man’s instance seems, the empathy coursing with both tunes is eventually reassuring; it supplies hope that one day someone will understand your problems as completely as these 2 songwriters understand their characters’.

I’ve to be thinking around that common sense the compassion, along with some the the other ways in i beg your pardon the 2 overlap, because news broke that Withers had passed away from heart problem at age 81 and that Prine, 73, had been hospitalized after falling serious ill indigenous COVID-19. (On Thursday, Prine’s wife, Fiona Whelan Prine, stated on Twitter that her husband had pneumonia in both lungs and also had been placed on a ventilator.)

The time of this unwelcome news — between a terrifying health crisis likely come kill an ext Americans than passed away in Vietnam — is cruel; it’s likewise reason to turn to your music, which feels uniquely suitable to the emotional demands of just such a moment.

The an initial thing come consider about John Prine and Bill Withers is how unlikely their stardom have the right to seem by modern standards. With family roots in the coal-mining nation of Kentucky and also West Virginia, both males served in the military and worked blue-collar tasks — Prine was a mailman, Withers an aircraft mechanic — before busying themselves fully with music.

Nowadays we like our beginners to show up out of nowhere or to arise from the pop-star polishing school of reality TV. But from the get-go these two wore your real-world endure on their real-world faces. Take it a long look, if you haven’t in a while, in ~ the cover of each man’s debut — Prine on a hay bale, Withers v his having lunch pail — then try to imagine a singer indigenous the last 2 or three years in a similar setup. The ideal he or she could expect would be kudos because that a parody well done.

This pre-fame living sustained the empathy in Prine’s and Withers’ songs. Lock knew what it to be to struggle; lock knew what it to be to be overlooked. And also that developed a moral frame that held steady also as every man’s circumstances thrived increasingly comfortable.

Pop songwriting since the Beatles has implied that a singer is telling his or her own story. But as typically as no these 2 were using their voices come tell someone else’s: “I am an old woman,” Prine sang at age 25 to open among his signature tunes, “Angel indigenous Montgomery.” Indeed, few have written around old world with more sensitivity 보다 he and also Withers in songs favor the former’s “Hello in There” and also the latter’s “Grandma’s Hands,” both of i m sorry illuminate the burdens of figures too regularly invisible come society.

There’s much much more to invoice Withers’ directory than his immortal hits “Ain’t No Sunshine” and also “Lean on Me.” Here, a depth dive right into his brief but excellent career.

As their well-drawn Vietnam product made clear, Prine and Withers believed that protest was most reliable in the type of a detailed personal narrative. In “Harlem,” Withers depicts the everyday lives of folks in that neighborhood, including those enduring the disregard of a landlord that won’t rotate on the heat; Prine’s “Paradise” laments heavy industry’s damage of the setting through memory of childhood trips to his parents’ hometown.

And both males knew the worth of a good groove. Despite we’ve come to think of Prine together a people or country artist and also Withers an icon of R&B, listening come their early on stuff reveals how very closely aligned they were in terms of rhythm and also texture — in their love the acoustic guitar and churchy organ and also drums miked therefore you have the right to hear stick versus skin.

Consider that “John Prine” was produced by Arif Marden (who additionally worked with Aretha Franklin and Donny Hathaway) and also Withers’ “Just as I Am” featured playing by Stephen Stills and also Jim Keltner, and also it makes even less sense to think the the two as representing various traditions.

Call this what it is: pure music that the mixed-up American soul. If yours is ailing, it’ll help.

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