Phoebe Bridgers pays heartfelt tribute to John Prine

Tony Madden

In early April 2020 – shortly after the world came to a screeching halt in the initial wake of COVID-19 – the death of John Prine gave Americana and roots music a taste of the loss that the year ahead would bring. The singer-songwriter was a beloved force in the genre for nearly 40 years, blessing airwaves with classics like “Angel From Montgomery.”

Prine’s death of COVID-19 last spring was a shot heard round the music industry. Phoebe Bridgers was just one of the artists to pay homage to Prine, covering “Summer’s End” in an intimate live stream last year.

“He’s like, one of the most important people on the planet to me,” she said.

Nearly a year later, Bridgers has released a more polished, intimate version of the cover alongside an acoustic version of “Kyoto” for Spotify Singles.

As the song begins, we hear a voicemail from Phoebe’s father: 

“Hey Phoebe, this is Papa,” he says. “Uh, I missed your birthday yesterday, I’m sorry. Crystal said she’d remind me but we got too busy working and everything but remembered today. So happy birthday and I love you. Give me a call, okay? Love everybody, bye.”

A central theme of “Kyoto” is Bridgers’ tumultuous relationship with her father, and she sets the scene in this song with a phone call.

You called me from a payphone – they still got payphones. It costs a dollar a minute to tell me you’re getting sober and you wrote me a letter, but I don’t have to read it,” she sings in “Kyoto.” 

She goes on to sing about her little brother’s relationship with their father: “He said you called on his birthday. You were off by like ten days, but you get a few points for trying.”

The voicemail serves as a perfect transition into Bridgers’ cover of “Summer’s End.” Aptly named, the song is a lament for a summer that flew by far too quickly. Where John Prine’s deep, earthy vocals once resided, we’re graced with Bridgers’ delicate soprano. 

Come on home,” Bridgers sings.“Come on home. You don’t have to be alone. Just come on home.”

It’s evident in Bridgers’ voice that Prine meant a great deal to her, and it’s not difficult to see why. 

Both Prine and Bridgers are similar forces to be reckoned with in the art of songwriting. Both of their catalogs feature such deep-cut, graceful specificity in original lyrics. Some of their songs even seem to parallel one another. The verses of “Summer’s End” paint a perfect picture of the aesthetic of Bridgers’ 2020 album “Punisher.”

In your car, the windows are wide open,” Prine sings. “The moon and stars hang out in bars just talking. I still love that picture of us walking. Just like that old house we thought was haunted.” 

Rolled-down windows, the moon and stars in the night sky, talking in bars and haunted houses are all motifs that appear on “Punisher.”

Prine’s loss was heart-wrenching, and a testament to the level of loss we’ve seen in this pandemic. His legacy continuing to shine through artists like Phoebe Bridgers is a welcome joy in a year of hurt.

Listen to Bridgers’ cover of “Summer’s End” on Spotfity: