Yesterday brought the extremely shitty news that John Prine, the widely beloved singer-songwriter, has been fighting for his life in the hospital for the past few days. Prine and his wife Fiona have both been battling coronavirus, and Prine is now in critical condition. This news has brought twin outpourings of grief and love from Prine’s many admirers, including his peers. One of those peers is the folk legend Joan Baez, who first sang one of Prine’s songs 45 years ago.
Prine’s song “Hello In There” is a devastating piece of work. It’s sung from the perspective of an old man living a sad, disconnected, bored life, longing for some kind of connection: “You know that old trees just grow stronger/ And old rivers grow wilder everyday/ Old people just grow lonesome/ Waiting for someone to say, ‘Hello in there, hello.'” Prine included “Hello In There” on his self-titled debut album in 1971, and Baez covered it on her LP Diamonds & Rust in 1975. It’s the kind of song that only becomes heavier as the people singing it grow older.
In a video posted yesterday, Baez talks to the camera, explaining what’s going on with Prine and saying that “Hello In There” is one of the most-requested songs she’s ever done. Then she sings a lovely solo-acoustic version of it. If you’re the kind of person who’s prone to get emotional while watching a 79-year-old icon singing her friend’s song while sitting in her kitchen, then this will mess you up. It’s a beautiful gesture, and you can see it below.
In related news, fuck coronavirus.