At the 50th annual Songwriters Hall of Fame induction ceremony last night, two of its newest honorees, John Prine and Justin Timberlake, both of different generations, described the common bond that drives songwriters to write, and the emotional satisfaction that overcomes them when a song is finished.
Prine, the legendary folk singer whom presenter and long-time friend Bonnie Raitt called “our own Mark Twain, our Woody, our Will Rogers,” succinctly stated “I gotta say, there’s no better feeling than having a killer song in your pocket and you’re the only one in the world who’s heard it.”
The multi-talented Timberlake discussed how important it is to create music with other co-writers who share the same hard-work ethic needed in finishing a song, no matter how difficult the task may be. “You’re doing therapy with somebody you just met. If you did that on the subway they would say ‘that bitch is crazy!’ he joked. “There’s always that one line in the song where you’re like ‘if we could just get that one line that leads into the chorus.’ You bond over that shared level of tenacity. And then every time you hear that song later on, you get to remember the moment you had that breakthrough. When people hear it for the first time, they just hear it. But you get to go back and have all those memories.”
Before Bonnie Raitt inducted John Prine, she acknowledged the band that was backing all the performers during the night and then started into Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery.” That song originally appeared on Prine’s 1971 eponymous debut album before Raitt released her own version on her Streetlights album in 1974 and has since become a staple of her catalog. “On behalf of all of us who sing your songs,” she said, “thank you.”
Bonnie Raitt praised Prine’s keen knack for profound reflections on what might seem mundane to others. “The best songwriters and poets can get you to see something that may have been right there in front of you the whole time and you just never noticed. John can fit so much meaning and insight into such deceptively simple lines and leave a heart-wrenching moment of hilarity, empathy or hard fought truth into such beautiful stories and characters, then wrap them all up in melodies as comfortable as slipping into your favorite pair of jeans. What a gift!”
“I always dug the lyrics to songs,” Prine said. “I used to buy Country Song Roundup and Hit Parader and I’d see all the songwriter’s names and publishers and it was such a thrill for me. When I first started learning other people’s song I had trouble learning their lyrics, or remembering them. So I started making my own lyrics up. And bang! That was my beginning as a songwriter.”
“I love songwriting,” he continued. “I love to paint myself into a corner and have to rhyme my way out of it. And when I co-write I always try to pick out a really good restaurant, so if things ain’t happening in the first 30 minutes, just go: ‘Hey man, let’s go get some lunch.’”