Anthology of American Folk Music

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September 18, 2005



Thanks for this insightful writeup. It's a shame the audience than can appreciate it is so small. Keep up the good work.


enjoyed this, thanks.

Charlie Mike

And live through lives in between
And live through life's in-between

I really hear this as:
And live THEIR lives in between

I have a clear copy of this song, so I really hear it clear, plus I think it scans perfectly with the previous lyrics


It's a shame the audience than can appreciate it is so small.

Judith S. McGill

I loved the song for the feeling in it, but had no idea at all what it was about. My son did a little research and found this. Thanks, it clears it up for me. Wouldn't want to be handcuffed to McCarthy on the day of judgement. Talk about a trail of ruined lives!

Antonio Feitosa

I love this song, and use to hear the kris kristofferson´s cover on "live at the philharmonic" album. And I am always trying to figure out what are they in fact singing about...

Great to see I am not alone and others were also in the blue...

Thanks for sharing your point here

Nick Foglia

I have been a fan of John Garfield for over 45 years, never heard this song before, just happened on it while surfing the net. It's strange that Garfield has not become an icon to the young like James Dean. Garfield wad way ahead of his time he had so much youthful angst even before the word came into vogue. A true rebel and if he had lived and gotten through the WITCH HUNT, I believe the 50's would have been his greatest decade as an artist. He was of my parents generation so I didn't know of him when he was alive, but you just have to look deep into his face to see all the dissolution of youth that comes from a true rebel.


I have been a John Prine fan for decades, seen him live several times and met him back stage once. This is my favorite Prine song and I have always wondered about the meaning even though I had all of the correct words. I guess you don't need to know the meaning to still get the feeling right.
The lyric "Old man sleeps with his conscience at night, your kid sleeps with his dreams" may be one of the best ever written.
Thnks for this summary.


I have a friend who says I should listen to John Prine. I ask for a good title- I want to get the best, to make a good impression. My friend say The Late John Garfield Blues. I really loved this song especially the joke part. Thank you for furthering my enjoyment with your summary.


the line "From winos to dime-store Jews" leaves me wondering. what exactly is a "dime-store Jew"?

Julie Garfield

Beautifully said.
Julie Garfield,
Daughter of John Garfield


I believe the line is:

The horses scream, their nightmare's dreams

Mitch Ritter Just reviewed the most recent Prine In Person & On Stage along with the Oh Boy Records tribute CD to the songs of John Prine. Both contain versions of "The Late John Garfield Blues." While I've felt at least back into the last decade that Prine was getting at something about the inadequacies of a "melting pot" metaphor when so many who maintain ethnic ties in the USA can be left behind by mainstream success (hence a young Jewish Ukranian poor immigrant's kid taking his ambition to Hollywood with adopted 'non-ethnic' name)and
the song feels like a wistful glance back at what is lost in the trade-off of one's family roots for mainstream acceptance, this new gloss on Prine's entering Dylan's
expanding frame of the pop song to include modernistic blurring of mulitple viewpoints & narrative voices adds a new dimension to listening with fresh ears and imaginative eyes. The chiming church bell thread from Blind Lemon Jefferson's thumbing of his bass strings down to Dylan's debut and further down to Steve Goodman and early 70's use electric guitar to accent the tolling church bell may or may not be plausible, yet as a recording technique it just about became a cliche (hear early Byrds and McGuinn's 12-string electric Rickenbacker from "Turn, Turn, Turn" onward. Garfield's issues as they play into this Prine song remain open to intuition and interpretation. I don't hear any of either in Sara & Sean Watkins version on the Prine tribute disc.

Richard Clayton

why must every folk song be compared to Dylan, don't get me wrong Dylan is Dylan and I love his craft, I walked out of more Dylan shows after only 3 songs than I care to remember and I still pay to see him but he really should retire the stage act... I spoke to John Prine once back in the 70's and asked him about Dylan and he said he couldn't listen to him because of his influence on his writing. Great essay I just discovered your site and I will be back often... I think Dylan is probably the most prolific and influential writer since Shakespeare but I'm tired of all the song writers in the world being judged against him.

The Celestial Monochord

Hi Richard - welcome!

Well, I think you've answered your own question - Prine himself acknowledges Dylan's huge influence on him. One confusion here is that I'm a very cold-hearted music fan. I bring up Dylan not to praise him, or judge Prine against him, as you say (Judge not, lest ye be judged ... I think Bob Marley said that), but because Dylan was so important to what made early Prine tick. Whether you are, or I am, sick of it or not, we have no say in the matter. If you re-read the post, I think you'll find I'm not judging Prine against Dylan, but trying my best to make sense of why the song was written and performed the way it was, instead of some other way. I agree Dylan has made some crappy music (so has Prine)!

I do have to say that Dylan is the go-to guy for another reason. Writing seriously about unserious music - popular, young people's, vernacular music - was invented specifically to come to grips with Dylan. (I know, this is a slight overstatement, which I do for emphasis.) Dylan is where the first and best writing is, and it helps to pass through writing and thinking about him to know how to approach the next subject - say, Prine. I think of it like piano - every classical musician knows some piano, even if their instrument is violin, for example. Because the piano is where it's all laid out, and serves as the watering hole where all the different species meet, and eye one another suspiciously. That's Dylan, for people who write about vernacular music.

Don Skoller

Celestial Monochord's commentary on"The Late John Garfield's Blues" is brilliant and beautiful, one of the best elucidations of a piece of song writing and the writing of songs I've ever read. Thank you!

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