He’s one of the great singer-storytellers, and yet I’d never heard John Prine’s personal explanation of “Bruised Orange (Chain of Sorrow)” until coming across this clip from 1980, below. Watch as he drives around his old hometown, describing his job at a church, telling the story of the morning when one of the altar boys was hit by a train and pointing out all of the song’s landmarks:
“Like a long ago Sunday when I walked through… this alley, over here. On a cold winter’s morning.. to that churchhouse. Just to shovel some snow… off that sidewalk. An’ I heard sirens on that train track, over there.”
(The clip is from John Prine Live on Soundstage 1980, from Shout Factory.)
I’ve just spent the last 45 minutes on Google Maps trying to find this very church referenced above, with no luck. Prine grew up in Maywood, Ill., and the main train tracks in town run along S. 25th Ave, with some others along Main Street. Prine calls them the “Northwestern tracks.” Those are the clues. Let’s consider it one of those Andrew Sullivan “View From Your Window” contests—if you can find the church (here’s a starter), let me know.
(UPDATE: CSI pal Jake Bayless has found it! It’s the New Beginnings Christian Church at 205 S. Fifth Ave., in Maywood, about a block away from the tracks. See a Google Street View here. Thanks, Jake!)
Picking a favorite John Prine song is impossible, but when I met John Prine, once, about ten years ago, I was awkward and nervous as I explained to him that “Bruised Orange” had helped me through some very tumultuous times. I think I even quoted some lyrics back to him: “A heart stained in anger grows weak and grows bitter.” Like he needed to hear them. But he was kind, and told me he was glad to have lent a hand.
Naturally, I’m not the only one touched by the song and its story. While writing this post, I’ve discovered that Bon Iver has recorded a version of “Bruised Orange.” It’s reverent and soaring, of course. Hear it here.