I've loved John Prine's music a long time—I grew up singing his songs around campfires in West Virginia. But before he was a regular in my music collection, John was performing at open mics in Chicago, and paying his bills by delivering mail. So when he hit it big with his first album in 1971, he says that getting use to fame was a shock. "I was writing about things private to me and dear to me," he told me. "And to have people know me before they shook my hand was odd to me." And John says that in his life, he's felt odd himself. "That’s how I ended up making my living, being Mr. Oddball," he says. "I get these thoughts, and I like to make them into songs. They might sound odd at the time, but then people connect to them throughout their life. And it turns out I’m doing something that may resemble something solid."
In the years since getting famous, John has started a family, battled cancer twice, and along the way, gotten more comfortable with being known. His new album is The Tree of Forgiveness—and it's brought him the best album sales of his career. To get it written, John told me, his wife and stepson sent him to a hotel room in Nashville and told him to get to work. "I would knock around during the day and go get a hot dog," he told me about his writing process. "And at nighttime, I’d start writing about three in the morning, order room service up, have a party by myself and end up with a couple songs every day."