John Prine and Paradise

None of this has anything to do with Bentonville History but read it anyway...haha

I first discovered the genius of John Prine when I started my career at the fire department. He was popular with the other couple of guys on my shift and I grew to love his music. One of my favorite songs was one he wrote called "Paradise." Here is the "real" story from wikipedia in case anyone cares:

"Paradise" is a song written by John Prine for his father, and recorded for his 1971 debut album, John Prine. Prine also re-recorded the song for his 1986 album, German Afternoons. The song is about the impact of coal mining both while in activity and what happens to the area around the Green River in Kentucky once the coal mining ends. The song references the Peabody Energy Corporation, and a now-defunct town called Paradise in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky

The point of all this - and there is a point - is that the song is one of the best pieces of poetry written about changes in rural America that I have heard or read. The lyrics follow, with the chorus only once to save the redundancy:

"When I was a child my family would travel
Down to Western Kentucky where my parents were born
And there's a backwards old town that's often remembered
So many times that my memories are worn.
"And daddy won't you take me back to Muhlenberg County
Down by the green river where paradise lay?"
"Well, I'm sorry my son, but you're too late in asking Mister Peabody's coal train has hauled it away"
Well, sometimes we'd travel right down the Green River
To the abandoned old prison down by Adrie Hill
Where the air smelled like snakes and we'd shoot with our pistols
But empty pop bottles was all we would kill
Then the coal company came with the world's largest shovel
And they tortured the timber and stripped all the land
Well, they dug for their coal till the land was forsaken
Then they wrote it all down as the progress of man
When I die let my ashes float down the Green River
Let my soul roll on up to the Rochester dam
I'll be halfway to Heaven with paradise waitin'
Just five miles away from wherever I am"


This song reminds me strongly of the Ozarks and of how fortunate we all are that our progress has been "constructive" instead of "destructive." Do you remember going out with your dad or brothers and shooting at pop bottles? The line that, "the air smelled like snakes" isn't that the humid summer feeling we all get when we are lazing about the yard or along the creek, watching for the water moccasins and copperheads?

Finally, the last stanza reminds me of Mill Dam, which was the local swimming hole for many years off Regional Airport Blvd, where the Osage rolled over the old mill dam and created a pool perfect for swimming and sunning. There was a low water bridge there (read "no bridge" if you aren't from the Ozarks) which was replaced a couple of years ago by a regular boring bridge. You used to be able to drive down the road in the summer and drive right through the Osage to continue on down the road and see the locals lounging around in the water, the kids playing in the pool, sunning on the big limestone dam. Back in OUR Paradise, just five miles away from wherever we are.