The best songs: Lake Marie by John Prine
“Prine’s stuff is pure Proustian existentialism. Midwestern mindtrips to the nth degree. And he writes beautiful songs. I remember when Kris Kristofferson first brought him on the scene. All that stuff about “Sam Stone” the soldier junky daddy and “Donald and Lydia,” where people make love from ten miles away. Nobody but Prine could write like that. If I had to pick one song of his, it might be “Lake Marie.” I don’t remember what album that’s on.”
– Bob Dylan (Interview with Bill Flanagan 2009)
Lake Marie is from the album, Lost Dogs and Mixed Blessings, the 12th studio album by John Prine, released in 1995. The song was inspired in part by Prine’s crumbling marriage and a series of grisly murders the singer remembered the Chicago news media having a field day with when he was a kid. It is one of my favourite songs, not just by John Prine, but by any artist.
“It’s an actual place along the Illinois-Wisconsin border. There’s an entire chain of lakes along there, small lakes, and I remember as a teenager growing up in Chicago, a lot of the teenagers would go to these lakes and in the summer time kind of get away from the city. Lake Marie was kind of just one that stuck out in my mind. About ’59, ’60, ’61, I grew up in Maywood – it’s a western suburb of Chicago, and we started hearing about murders that weren’t related to the mob. You know, John Wayne Gacy was like, about two towns away from me and you just hear about it. The suburbs were kind of thought to be a pretty safe place at the time, and then some of these unexplained murders would show up every once in a while, where they’d find people in the woods somewhere. I just kind of took any one of them, not one in particular, and put it as if it was in a TV newscast. It was a sharp left turn to take in a song, but when I got done with it, I kind of felt like it’s what the song needed right then.”
Lake Marie (album version):