2021 SONG DRAFT- ROUND 5 PICK 8: HANSPOSTCARD SELECTS : ‘PARADISE’- JOHN PRINE

Paradise Kentucky | John prine, Power plant, Coalfield

2021 Song Draft- Round 5 Pick 8- Hanspostcard selects: ‘Paradise’- John Prine.

“Paradise” was written and recorded by John Prine fifty years ago for his debut album- the self-titled John Prine. John had written the song for his father. The song is about the town of Paradise, Kentucky where his parents were from. Kentucky is a state its neighbor West Virginia- famous for coal. In the 1960’s the Peabody Coal Company- which Prine sings about in the song came and strip mined the land- and ‘Paradise’ is about the devastation that strip mining did to the land and the town of Paradise. Paradise was a town along the Green River-that was once a trading post. The town no longer exists- as John sings- “Mr. Peabody’s coal train has hauled it away.’ All that remains of the original town is a small cemetery. I don’t think there is a better song ever written for the environmental movement. Prine sings in the song ‘ When I die let my ashes flow 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.’- John Prine died in the spring of 2020 of Covid. Half of his ashes were buried next to his parents in Chicago- the other half were spread in the Green River as he wished in the song.

Overview of a Surface Mine at Paradise, Muhlenburg County Ky | Smithsonian  American Art Museum

‘Paradise’ also works for me by bringing back memories of my childhood. When I was growing up I would regularly go ‘down the river’ with them to where they were from- and where my father grew up. We would visit their siblings- my great aunt’s and uncle’s and one set of grandparents. The song reminds me of those times. I always loved those trips. It was like a trip to another place and time. It has been over 40 years now since I’ve been to those places and while I have traveled through the area fairly often- I have so far resisted the temptation of going to the places I remember as a child. The relatives I knew are all gone. Do the houses and farms they lived on remain? Maybe I just don’t want to know. Things can change a lot in 40 years. If I don’t go back and see- they will remain the same and in a way my grandparents and family members from there are still alive.

Paradise

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 wornAnd 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 Airdrie Hill
Where the air smelled like snakes and we’d shoot with our pistols
But empty pop bottles was all we would killAnd 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

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 ’til the land was forsaken
Then they wrote it all down as the progress of manAnd 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.

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

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

17 responses to “2021 SONG DRAFT- ROUND 5 PICK 8: HANSPOSTCARD SELECTS : ‘PARADISE’- JOHN PRINE

  1. It’s so real it hurts. What have we done to our paradise? Hard to comment on the song. I understand why you don’t want to go back to where your relatives lived, you’re right better to remember them as still alive and enjoying their homes 😦

  2. A sad and poignant commentary on the legacy of coal, which is so deeply entrenched into the socio-economic fabric of this part of the country. Peabody Coal (which is now headquartered in downtown St. Louis) and their fellow coal syndicates were/are the epitome of evil.

  3. Hans I could pick so many Prine songs for this thing we’re doing. This would be one of them. Funny how the years sneak up on us. Good stuff. I love John. He’s like an old friend. Always puts a smile on my face and makes me feel good.

  4. My first hearing of this song was by John Denver on a record my parents had. So I can’t unhear that version. But it’s Prine’s song. You hear what it means when Prine sings it. Even as a kid hearing JD’s version, I could tell the song was serious, and reflected on what was happening to the way of life of my grandparents and my parents’ upbringing (for them it was farming and the farm community).

  5. I know very little about John Prine but, this music reminds me of my maternal grandparents. My grandmother played a banjo and her younger brother, the fiddle.

    I wonder how much more of our beautiful planet we are going to destroy before we finally stop. Don’t even get me started on the mining for metals for cell phones…

  6. listening to it for the first time. Excellent lyrics. It’s a shame what the coal industry has done to the mountains and the people around there. My car broke down one time in a smallish town in E Kentucky, got it towed to the one thing resembling a garage in town, the owner’s son gave me a ride back to Cincinnati and was reluctant to even take $20 off me for doing so. Heard his tales of Appalachia along the way, military vet who was injured and only signed up as a way to get out of the town. Was a decent guy but a sad story.

    • definitely. The people and the landscape need some help there. I am not widely traveled, but Appalachian WV to TN is probably the most impressive. lovely landscape I’ve seen anywhere.

  7. Thanks for the song Hans and the wonderful personal story. In reading your and Graham’s conversation Re the first album i went and listened to it for first time and was blown away! So good! What an wonderful storyteller. Going to go on. A deep dive into the rest of his discography!

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