Chain of Sorrow: a Life Rope not a Noose

Last night my family and I went to see John Prine at the Palace in Louisville. We got stuck back with the wheelchairs and the drunken nutjobs. Laughed my ass off all night long.  It is a given that live music is always better, but for Prine this is exponentially true.

I first saw him in Louisville on the U of Louisville campus in their funky little drunken brawl of a venue, The Red Barn, and he sang all the stuff that would become his debut album. He ran out of material and people wouldn’t let him leave the stage until he sang three encores. Then I saw him again at the Armory in Louisville about five years later when his partner in crime, Steve Goodman, was still living and rocked the damned house.  And then last night.  I done growed up with Prine.  He has been one of those creative rocks that has been an emotional anchor against the day by day horrors that elicit our barbaric yawps of anger like the recent shitstorm of an election.

Last night was no different.  One song, “Chain of Sorrow”,was a life rope. Surely it was intentional, an anodyne for the election.  He didn’t say so, but it was pretty obvious.  Here it is for you, too.  Listen to the song and sing the lyrics below and see if you don’t feel better afterwards.  The song arose from tragedy but asks us to grow stronger out and through the pain.

Chain of Sorrow

My heart’s in the ice house come hill or come valley
Like a long ago sunday when I walked through the alley
On a cold winter’s morning to a church house
Just to shovel some snow.

I heard sirens on the train track howl naked gettin’ nuder,
An altar boy’s been hit by a local commuter
Just from walking with his back turned
To the train that was coming so slow.

You can gaze out the window get mad and get madder,
Throw your hands in the air, say “what does it matter?”
But it don’t do no good to get angry,
So help me I know

For a heart strained in anger grows weak and grows bitter.
You become your own prisoner as you watch yourself sit there
Wrapped up in a trap of your very own
Chain of sorrow.

I been brought down to zero, pulled out and put back there.
I sat on a park bench, kissed the girl with black hair
And my head shouted down to my heart
“You better look out below!”
Hey, it ain’t such a long drop don’t stammer don’t stutter
From the diamonds in the sidewalk to the dirt in the gutter
And you carry those bruises to remind you wherever you go.

You can gaze out the window get mad and get madder,
Throw your hands in the air, say “what does it matter?”
But it don’t do no good to get angry,
So help me I know

For a heart strained in anger grows weak and grows bitter.
You become your own prisoner as you watch yourself sit there
Wrapped up in a trap of your very own
Chain of sorrow

Written by John Prine • Copyright © Universal Music Publishing Group, BMG Rights Management US, LLC

3 Comments


  1. // Reply

    You can always count on Prine to give us a slant view on the world, dosed with humor and insight.

    And this:

    “You can gaze out the window get mad and get madder,
    Throw your hands in the air, say “what does it matter?”
    But it don’t do no good to get angry,
    So help me I know”

    –Kevin


  2. // Reply

    Yep. I don’t focus on the set backs. Just takes away energy from trying to take the next step forward.

    Never heard Prine before. You have opened my musical lock box just a little bit wider.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *