Lent with John Prine: Hello in There

Lent with John Prine
Hello in There

We are listening to iconic American folksinger John Prine during Lent this year, choosing songs that highlight themes of the season.

Of course, in Lent we think of change as well as our mortality — themes artists have always and will ever address. I can’t think of a song that better captures the sadness, alienation, and loneliness that aging in this life can bring than Prine’s exquisite Hello in There.

We had an apartment in the city
Me and Loretta liked living there
Well, it’s been years since the kids have grown
A life of their own — left us alone
John and Linda live in Omaha
And Joe is somewhere on the road
We lost Davey in the Korean war
And I still don’t know what for, it don’t matter anymore

Ya’ know that old trees just grow stronger
And old rivers grow wilder ev’ry day
Old people just grow lonesome
Waiting for someone to say, “Hello in there, hello”

Me and Loretta, we don’t talk much more
She sits and stares through the back door screen
And all the news just repeats itself
Like some forgotten dream that we’ve both seen
Someday I’ll go and call up Rudy
We worked together at the factory
But what could I say if he asks “What’s new?”
“Nothing, what’s with you? Nothing much to do”

Ya’ know that old trees just grow stronger
And old rivers grow wilder ev’ry day
Old people just grow lonesome
Waiting for someone to say, “Hello in there, hello”

So if you’re out walking down the street sometime
And spot some hollow ancient eyes
Please don’t just pass ’em by and stare
As if you didn’t care. Say, “Hello in there, hello”

© Warner/Chappell Music, Inc

18 thoughts on “Lent with John Prine: Hello in There

  1. Like a strip from the old small-press comic collection Collegiate Hepcats, where two characters (a middle-aged father and college-age son) are looking down at their wife’s/mother’s new infant “change-of-life child”:

    FATHER: When she’s 18.
    SON: When she’s 18.
    (pause for one panel)
    SON: I’ll be 38.
    FATHER: I’ll be DEAD.


  2. “. . . . . . . . ‘He is none that you
    have named, for at Easter I had greeting from all, and each was in
    his brotherhood; but he is Aengus the Lover of God, and the first of
    those who have gone to live in the wild places and among the wild
    beasts. Ten years ago he felt the burden of many labours in a
    brotherhood under the Hill of Patrick and went into the forest that
    he might labour only with song to the Lord; but the fame of his
    holiness brought many thousands to his cell, so that a little pride
    clung to a soul from which all else had been driven. Nine years ago
    he dressed himself in rags, and from that day none has seen him,
    unless, indeed, it be true that he has been seen living among the
    wolves on the mountains and eating the grass of the fields. Let us go
    to him and bow down before him; for at last, after long seeking, he
    has found the nothing that is God; and bid him lead us in the pathway
    he has trodden.’

    They passed in their white habits along the beaten path in the wood,
    the acolytes swinging their censers before them, and the abbot, with
    his crozier studded with precious stones, in the midst of the
    incense; and came before the quern-house and knelt down and began to
    pray, awaiting the moment when the child would wake, and the Saint
    cease from his watch and come to look at the sun going down into the
    unknown darkness, as his way was. ”

    (Wm Butler Yeats, from ‘Where There is Nothing, There Is God’)


  3. We only talked for 45 minutes but she changed the way I looked at old people. She picked me up hitchhiking along the shore of Lake Michigan in the summer of 1970. She had been born in Cheboygan Wisconsin but she ran away at 14 with her 17 year old fiance. He enlisted in World War I and never came back. She worked in a fertilizer factory until the end of the war, then she went to Chicago and joined a dance troupe.

    She went a little but wild, hanging out with musicians, staying out all night, and driving too fast in cars. One night she danced with a prince in an open air pavilion. ‘I think he fell in love with me’, she said, ‘but he didn’t speak English very well, so it’s hard to say. I let him kiss me and he made a lot of promises, but I knew I’d never see him again.’

    She and two friends drove to Mexico, Guanjuato. It took them two weeks there and two weeks back. They tried to smuggle liquor and marijuana across the border, but they got caught. The liquor was confiscated, but the border guard had no idea what the marijuana was and it wasn’t illegal yet anyway.

    When she dropped me off she turned her face to me and said, ‘You (all) aren’t the first to be young and have fun. You remember that.’

    I never did, Dora. God rest you.


  4. May Christ grant us to be able to keep turning to him
    to sit with him in the sorrows of our regrets
    to remember his body affixed to the Cross as our physical limitations increase
    to become smaller
    to hold the brightness of the light of his life ever closer
    and by it to see everyone in his love.

    In Thy compassion, O Christ, have mercy on me.



  5. Want to trade, Rick? That Age 70 that shows up in the obituaries is two years in the rear view mirror for me. Do I have two more? Ten more? More than that? I don’t know.

    Things I have managed to learn along the way: Be nice to people. Cherish your friends, your children, and the rest of your family. Get involved in something. Keep thinking; keep caring. Try to fix your mistakes whenever you can, but don’t spend your life regretting what you didn’t do. Find things to be grateful for.


  6. When I see announcements of death these says and see a number like Age 70, I gasp; that’s only 13 years away for me.

    What if I have only 13 more years. Yikes!! Or less than that!! Double yikes!!

    I appreciated your comment, Robert. Very similar thoughts rattling around in my brain, too. There will be an end to my wasted moments, an end to my perpetual procrastination.

    Lord have mercy.


  7. John Prine apparently wrote this in 1971! I first heard it on Joan Baez’s “Daimonds and Rust” album in 1975. Thought she wrote it until I looked it up.


  8. As time marches on, actually races on, I find that the “stages” of life are pronounced but to me seem natural. While it is true that youth is wasted on the young, their is quality and value in every stage in life. In my mind I review the journey of my life aka memoires with great affection and of course at times with remorse and regret. However at 71 I am more wise than at 21 and the years in between mainly because of experience and “bumping into the walls” enough to know what not to do.

    Strangely even when I was a young man, I found it interesting to talk to older people as they were living text books on live, living though the depression, WW2 and all the major events that transpired before the world changing event of my birth, well at least world changing for me. To this day and again this is natural to me, I find “younger” people , now defined to me as anyone under 50 as not very interesting and I do not say that easily. Due to our affluence , our history of relative peace, lack of mandatory national shared experience and the less demanding to sustain at least a basic lifestyle “younger” people for the most part are the hollow eyes of those self absorbed and without a lot of depth other than the swallow inter connectivity of the internet.

    Again, I say this knowing full well, I am the old get off my lawn guy who laments losing the good old days but that is not what I am trying to convey. You cannot replicate certain historical events that give us as individuals and a nation a certain outlook that is grounded in our life experience. Also I learned at an early age, people really do not want to listen to others, they want to validate what they believe or really are not aware or do not care

    So I am trying to age gracefully and appreciate life as it is. I like the song a lot and wonder what the perspective of the song writer will be a few years from the recording. It harkens back to the folk song era of the 60’s when folk music was somewhat popular and was listened to on AM radio as FM was mostly a waste land and there was limited choices in entertainment. Sometimes too many choices are to overwhelming.

    I am sure I read more into the song than there is . but I did enjoy it.


  9. I turn sixty at the end of this month. The other day my wife asked if it bothered me. I told her that the number doesn’t mean anything to me, but that for years now the relentless approach of death, for me and her, has weighed heavily on my mind. I’ve made so many mistakes, and most of it seems irreversible and irremediable at this point. But who am I kidding? I had plenty of time to reverse and remedy so many things, and I squandered it for decades. Did I expect that to go on forever? Perhaps somewhere in my reality-resistant mind I did. But time and death have set a limit to my wastefulness, and I’m being swept toward that limit like a leaf down an implacably flowing torrent, toward an unknown and waiting ocean.


  10. ” . . . and I
    Delight to imagine them seated there;
    There, on the mountain and the sky,
    On all the tragic scene they stare.
    One asks for mournful melodies;
    Accomplished fingers begin to play.
    Their eyes mid many wrinkles, their eyes,
    Their ancient, glittering eyes, are gay.”

    (William Butler Yeats)

    We look at old age with limited understanding and a kind of dread at how it all ends. But can we maybe try to see it differently for a moment.
    Who is held up these days as a model ‘Christian’? Who would Our Lord choose as such, if any? Likely some little old lady who voluntarily cleans the toilets down at the local strip mall store front Church and takes care of four or five grandchildren for whom she is a kind and loving caregiver and a source of all that is stable in their lives . . .

    I suspect such is the case, and all the rhetoric and posturing of we who argue our points cannot hold a candle to such a glorious creature as that tired, worn-out old grandmother who limps home with a thankful heart just to have a place to stay and food to eat.

    Two millenia, and what do we know of the faith? What do we really know?


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