September 21, 2019

Lent with John Prine: Paradise

Lent with John Prine
Paradise

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

The 1960s and 70s was a time of ecological awakening in the United States. When John Prine’s breakthrough eponymous album was released in 1971, the environmental movement was taking off. Incidents such as the Santa Barbara oil spill and the burning of the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland raised a new sense of alarm about the environmental threats the country was facing.  By then Congress had passed the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, which required an environmental impact assessment before government and corporate development projects could be approved, and also allowed citizens and environmental groups to sue polluters. The first Earth Day (April 22) was commemorated in 1970, the same year the Clean Air Act was enacted.

That environmental movement and its successive iterations have often been viewed primarily as part of the liberal political agenda in the U.S., due to its association with the various protest movements of that era. However, concerns about the impact of industrialization upon the environment are as old as the industrial revolution itself, and in America the first “environmentalists” were deeply conservative and committed to preserving wilderness areas and the natural beauty of the country. This led to the creation of the natural parks and groups like the Sierra Club a century before the modern “environmental movement.”

In recent years, Christians have become increasingly aware and vocal concerning their God-given and biblically supported responsibility to care for creation (Genesis 1:28). Lent is a good season in which to lament the often devastating impact we as humans have had on our earthly home. John Prine’s song Paradise is a reminder that what we often call “human progress” can lead to a multitude of unintended consequences, causing God’s good creation to groan in painful bondage — paradise lost.

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

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

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

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

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

 

© Warner/Chappell Music, Inc

Comments

  1. Mister Peabody has gone to Washington, DC, where he’s busy reversing as many environmental protection regulations as he can. Mister Peabody doesn’t give a damn about John Prine or the environment.

    • Clay Crouch says

      But he does gives a damn about money. So, he’s got that going for him.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        While all the Born-Again Christians chorus “AAAAAAA-MENNNNNN!!!!!”

        (“It’s All Gonna Burn”, you know.
        “This World Is Not My Home; I’m Just Passin’ Thru…”)

  2. It must be collusion

  3. Human beings are extremely short-sighted, and blind to the destruction we individually cause. I’m afraid shooting pop bottles with pistols (what is the likelihood that the shards of glass or spent rounds were removed by the shooters?) and spreading one’s cremains over the Green River won’t restore Paradise. Much of the stuff of our nostalgic memories contributed to the ecological disasters and decay we rue.

  4. It’s fine in song and protest to call out the Mister Peabody’s of the world. They have surely wrought much ecological havoc with their dishonest, heavy-handed business practices, finding ways around whatever environmental protection laws that do exist. But let’s not ignore the fact that it is the lifestyle of the hundreds of millions and even billions of people, including us, that is driving the destruction of our planet’s ecosystem, not just a few Mister Peabodys. Even if the Mister Peabodys were to all get religion and obey laws and regulations, and become proactive in having their business protect local environments, the problem of ecological disaster will continue to metastasize as long as the hundreds of millions and billions, including us, continue in the same lifestyles.

  5. johnbarry says

    I blame Sherman for not stopping Mr. Peabody.

    My favorite environmental song was Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell. Joni was not from USA and It was recorded in her native language but due to my language skills , I was able to understand.

    For whatever reason the picture with D.J. Trump and the Ruskies was posted, I say thanks. It stays on subject as President Trump was being briefed by the Russians about the environmental advantage of Russia being able to buy 20% of USA plutonium reserves given ok by H.C. Clinton. This way Russia can build nuclear plants and save the planet. The meeting was set up by Boris and Natasha with help by Mr. Peabody, so the conversation comes full circle and the Clintons can get lots of money from Russians. I can tell by the body language President D.J. Trump was giving the Ruskies a full intelligence briefing and who better to give an intelligent brief? Only D.J. Trump can be President, play a lot of golf, run Trump Inc. and be a Russian agent plus write great speeches.

    The Ruskies meeting was top secret as it would look bad, I am waiting for someone to leak the pictures of JFK and Nikita Krushchev, talking about leaving communism in Cuba. We should not talk to the Russians as the Chinese are our real friends. Never talk to anyone you disagree with as it has worked well with me in my life as now the only person I talk to is myself and of course the other voices.

    • Christiane says

      🙂

      I’m a fan, J.B.

    • Those are some great speeches. I would have to check with the Donald but I would imagine they are the greatest and most listened to in the history of America…and also Europe…and,well, the world. If I can’t get through to him personally I’ll check with Fox News. They’ll confirm. On another note, I speak Canadian if you need a translator, eh.

      • ChrisS. I am ignorant in 10 languages, maybe more, and illiterate in many. I do not boast , it is a fact. I thought I was very conversant in Canadian then I went to Quebec and of course got totally confused. It is like going to 8th street in Hialeah Fl. Many people believe I have a light hearted, optimistic view of life because many people I have conversations with always inquire of me “Are You Serious” when I express my thoughts.

        I often wonder who Canadians think is the most world wide famous Canadian of all time is. My vote would be Shania Twain but again that is probably going to get me another are you serious question.

        • They think Dudley Do-Right is the most famous Canadian.

        • You’re a regular riot John Mon. (I also speak Rasta). This light heartedness is not in keeping with the Lenten observance of this Saturday’s post and I place the blame for that squarely upon you. Thanks a lot John!
          Gordon Lightfoot and Bruce Cockburn certainly must get mention. Cockburn is not so well known here but he’s a playa in Canuck country. Finally, wth the volume of ignorance and illiteracy, in such a number of languages, that you have accumulated, I see no reason you should not be given a pass for a little boastfulness now and again.

    • Christiane says

      My nephew met a girl from China (yes, the mainland) who was also studying architecture at university and they ARE
      ENGAGED!!!!

      So, my nephew is engaged to a girl from China who speaks Mandarin Chinese and my son is engaged to a girl from Latvia who speaks four languages (including Russian) . . . . . we are an interesting international group in my family these days. . . . the world grows smaller for us.

  6. We are children, unable yet to be stewards of creation. When the new Earth comes, who’s to say we won’t trash that? We need most of the world’s population to grow up

  7. Good point, CM.

    The modern ecological/environmental movement is based on fundamental bedrock conservative principles.

    We are responsible for our actions because our actions have consequences.

    When did conservatives stop believing in personal responsibility? I ,missed the memo.

    When did conservatism adopt the infantile view that freedom is the ability to NOT have to clean up one’s own mess but to leave it to somebody else? Action without consequence?

    There is a crisis in our current social, economic, political sphere. But I will submit it is not a crisis of liberalism but a crisis of conservatism.

    Now if anyone is going to respond to my post please don’t avoid the issue by listing all the bad things about liberalism. Please no strawmen about “radical leftism”! Physician heal thyself by first taking the beam out of thine own eye..

    • The conservative out is that no significant damage is being done by human beings, it’s all just part of nature’s cycles. As for the evidence that human beings are contributing to ecological degradation in a significant way, they say the science isn’t reliable, it’s a hoax perpetrated by global elites who want to control the individual and subsume us all into a worldwide totalitarian collective. Conspiracy theory plays a big part in it: the globalists, the Deep State, and the scientific community are all in on the project of worldwide domination.

      • Clay Crouch says

        Yep.

        • It’s an extension and mutation of the Red Scare. The milieu and mood it generates is similar to the paranoid atmosphere in the classic movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

          • Robert F. I want to snatch 25 year old Raquel Welch body . I learned from the movie, you have to nip problems in the bud or in the pod. Kevin McCarthy in the original Kevin McCarthy, the hero in the movie, was not paranoid , they really were aliens with the pods. Great movie, the first one not the second. Right up there with the Incredible Shrinking Man and the first Fly movie.

            • The movie itself was the product of paranoia; that’s the point. And we have an even more malignant and irrational/insane paranoia in the cultural atmosphere now, with far less connection to reality, surrounding ideas about Globalists and The Deep State.

              • anonymous says

                Paranoia on steroids

              • johnbarry says

                Robert F. it was a movie based on a on a book that was a science fiction horror movie and a good one at that. I first saw in when I was 9 years old with my brother/friends and we got it. It was about space aliens coming down and taking over our bodies and thoughts. The final sequence still remember that they thought the hero was crazy when he made it to the city but the ambulance crashed that had “pods” in them to start invading the city.

                It was a movie not an Animal Farm type political statement. That is made up stuff by guys who wanted to sound intellectual. The Incredible Shrinking Man fought a spider with a needle, was that about the danger of Eugene McCarthy attacked the small minded? Grapes of Wrath was a movie that could nudge into politics.

                I liked I Dream of Jeanie because it helped NASA and space exploration or perhaps because I got to see Barbara Eden’s belly button and really just be Barbara Eden. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

                Also when I was a kid, we all loved Dana Wynter who was high class and kind of Grace Kelley sexy and we were all glad they did not pod her, as she was the girlfriend in the movie . I am going by memory bank from long ago and I may be overdrawn.

                However , Kevin McCarthy the Republican Minority House leader has the same name of the actor in the movie and he once made a statement that Democrats are like peas in , you guessed it, a pod. Maybe the movie was a warning. And why did Tide have to put Tide in , you guessed it, a pod and double the price. Now it comes together.

                The remake of the movie stunk.

                • It wasn’t an intentional political statement, but it expressed the paranoid atmosphere of the times because its makers breathed that very air.

                  • Robert, and how would you know what they intended. Where is your proof ? You love to talk like you know the thoughts of others. Think before you past not after.

                    • What’s with the personal insults, Stbndct? If you’re having anger problems, don’t take it out on me.

                      As for the rest, I offer my opinion based on my general understanding of the film and of the times. You can take it or leave it — no proof will be forthcoming, nor is it required for interpretation of a film.

                    • By the way, I said nothing about what the filmmakers intended.

                    • Okay, I see where you got the idea that I claimed to know the intentions of the filmmakers. I misspoke in regard to that — I only meant to say the film may not have had any intentional political message, and yet may have expressed the political, and social, paranoia of the times. As for the rest, I stand by what I said.

                    • Clay Crouch says

                      Easy, Tiger.

                  • Headless Unicorn Guy says

                    It wasn’t an intentional political statement, but it expressed the paranoid atmosphere of the times because its makers breathed that very air.

                    You can tell what’s worrying a culture in its time and place by looking at their Dystopian and Horror fiction, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers is dystopian horror. Though Pod People appear human, they are not; I think the best (though overused) description is “soulless”, without emotion or individuality. And they reproduce and spread themselves.

                    During the Red Scare of the Fifties, the obvious analogy of Pod People was the New Soviet Man; nowadays, it’d be Smartphone Zombies.

                • The remake of the movie stunk, because it was not informed by the same milieu of paranoia that the original took shape in — thus, it was far less convincing.

                  • Headless Unicorn Guy says

                    You can’t recapture the Zeitgeist of the time of the original.

                    Like “Red Dawn”; I could prophesy that the remake would flop. “Red Dawn” (itself a pastiche of Russian WW2 movies, “Heroic Partisan” sub-genre) required the background of the Late Cold War to function, and without that background it had NO energy.

            • One of it’s malign effects is that it is the motivation behind conservative denial of the catastrophic dimensions of anthropocentric climate change.

            • Headless Unicorn Guy says

              Great movie, the first one not the second. Right up there with the Incredible Shrinking Man and the first Fly movie.

              Steven King covered all three (and a lot more) in his nonfiction book Danse Macabre (a personal history/memoir of the entire horror genre in both print and visual media).

      • Yes I understand how delusional the Right has become but that just restates the problem.

        How did conservatism become so resolutely post-modernist? Believing as they obviously do that they can make reality up as they go?

        I find this all remarkable and am astonished at how few people are willing to remark on it. I know thoughtful conservatives but the generally agreed upon strategy seems to be to hunker down and ride it out and be there to pick up the pieces when it all falls down. Perfectly understandable. If they have the luxury to do it of course.

        I tend to fall on the liberal side of things but believe you me I don’t want that to be the only game in town especially with the crew we have waiting in the wings now.

        • At some point, conservative ideology started to distrust experts and expertise; it may have had to with how many intellectuals and other well-educated experts fell for Russian Communism in the first half of the twentieth century, or that may just be part of the rationale.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            it may have had to with how many intellectuals and other well-educated experts fell for Russian Communism in the first half of the twentieth century

            That was definitely a factor.
            How important a factor is open to question, but it was an element in the mix.

            There was also a pre-existing general distrust of “pointy-headed Intellectuals(TM)” in favor of “Good Common Horse Sense(TM)”.

        • Dana Ames says

          Some conservatives want to “go back” to Reagan’s policies. This is one instance where we should go back to Nixon’s policies; it was under his administration that the environmental regulations were passed and Earth Day was begun.

          Nope, they don’t make conservatives like they used to.

          Dana

        • Christiane says

          I’m supporting Biden in 2020. He is experienced and has a moral compass.

          If people think we’ve got conservative leadership now, I suggest reconsidering this. . . .
          in REAL conservative times, extremism couldn’t cut it . . . . even Barry Goldwater couldn’t get any traction and in the old days, and he would be considered moderate by today’s standards

          • Christiane says

            should be:
            ‘even Barry Goldwater couldn’t get any traction in the old days, . . .

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          I tend to fall on the liberal side of things but believe you me I don’t want that to be the only game in town especially with the crew we have waiting in the wings now.

          Whose only strategy seems to be “Out-Extreme the Enemy Extremists”.

          That way lies Ideological Blood Feud to Extermination of one to all the One True Ways.

  8. People won’t care about preservation if the can’t put food on the table. So let’s lift people out of poverty.

    • anonymous says

      destroy the Earth and the oceans and food production dies with them . . . . gotta look at the Bigger Picture

      • Burro (Mule) says

        The damage will not be evenly distributed. Remember the Nazi gas chambers? The most horrible thing for me is how the bodies piled up in the middle; women and children on the bottom, able bodied men on top.

        Every. single. time. Full stop.

        That’s what we’re seeing now in slow motion. Liberals, being what’s left of Christianity after you strip it of all its metaphysics, is trying to arrange an equitable arrangement. Conservatism, in this context, is calculating who to throw under the bus.

        • Is one better than the other?

          • Burro (Mule) says

            That depends on how much time we have.

            And given the antecedents I’m not optimistic that what is inevitably going to be proposed as an equitable division of discomfort by its proponents will actually be so.

            • But the proponents of throwing under the bus will deliver exactly what they promise?

              • Headless Unicorn Guy says

                Both are Zero-Sum Examples of “The Weak are the Meat which the Strong do Eat.”

  9. Christiane says

    “John Prine’s song Paradise is a reminder that what we often call “human progress” can lead to a multitude of unintended consequences, causing God’s good creation to groan in painful bondage — paradise lost.”

    this is so well-written . . .

    and is a reminder to us that there must be some justice also for the Earth in midst of all of our getting and spending, or we risk becoming ‘entitled’ instead of ‘thankful’ and we won’t be able to change back again

  10. While this song certainly addresses the damage to the environment, one thing that many have either missed or just not commented on is that it is also just about the loss of a home. As has often been the case throughout history and continuing today, one person’s progress and building is another person’s loss. Usually it is the wealthy and well connected getting most of the gain, and the less well connected getting the loss. Being a decidedly non-city person myself, it always gives me a sick feeling in my stomach when I see another development go up. Not necessarily for the ecological destruction it might bring, but just the changing of the area I call home and the things that I enjoy. Of course for others it might mean a good job, a nice house, somewhere new to shop, a new school. My loss, their gain. Lord have mercy on a country boy.