What John Prine Can’t Travel Without ~ NYT

The singer-songwriter always takes guitar picks, an Archie comic and five pairs of reading glasses.


Illustrations by Estelle Morris

By Nell McShane Wulfhart


The singer-songwriter John Prine has been playing his distinctive country-folk music on the road for nearly 50 years. He is currently touring in support of his newest album, “The Tree of Forgiveness.”

Mr. Prine and his wife, Fiona, are based in Nashville but spend much of the year in the St. Petersburg, Fla., area where they do very little. “Fiona is a beach person. I just bought a 1977 Cadillac Coupe DeVille and I’ve got that down at the house in Florida, so I usually take that to the carwash and go get a hot dog and wait for Fiona to come back from the beach, and then we go out to a nice restaurant at night.”

They also spend a lot of time in Galway, Ireland, where Ms. Prine has family. There, he says, he likes to “sleep all day and go to the pub at night. We’re very relaxed people.”

On tour he travels with three bags stuffed with old hotel keys, newspapers, shoehorns, corkscrews and much, much more. “I have one huge suitcase that’s usually overweight, so I pay extra money for it, and two garment bags that look like body bags; they’re stuffed — overstuffed — with clothes and suits that are too small. I hate to admit it to my wife, but I only wear two outfits on the road, and then a third one during the day, but I carry about 20.”

Here’s what he packs on every trip.

Credit Estelle Morris


“I take my own syrup, ketchup and mustard, just in case of emergencies, in my suitcase. Whatever I can steal from the hotels. It’s usually Heinz ketchup and they give you a weird mustard. You don’t get French’s or anything; you get some sort of Dijon or some mustard. That’s just for hot dogs. I don’t use mustard for anything else.”

Archie comic

“I’ve been subscribing to Archie for 40-some years and I just like to receive it in my mailbox. I subscribe to it under the name ‘Johnny Prine, Age 71,’ and I give my correct age and you know, you go to the mailbox once a month, and there’s an Archie comic there with your name on it — it’s kind of a nice feeling.”

Toy motorcycle

“With a little man on it. It’s kind of for good luck. I’ve had one of these ever since I could walk. I’ve had to replace it over the years because other kids steal it from you. It’s the guy on the back that I really like. He came with the motorcycle, so you wouldn’t want to throw the motorcycle away.”


“My wife just gave me a kazoo, so there’s a kazoo at the bottom of the bag. I just used mine on the latest record. Everybody in my band has a kazoo now.”


“I have an issue of Mojo music magazine in my bag; it’s a May issue, with a young Roger Daltrey on the cover. I’m not in it. I don’t know why — I’m very important. Guns of the Old West — it’s a magazine about antique pistols. I don’t collect them, but I have two I bought on the road about 20 years ago.”

Guitar picks

“I’ve got probably 11 in my pocket right now, and they’re orange, green, red and white, and they all have my name on them. I might give them to fans; it depends on what they’re like. I might give them one. I don’t like to be caught without a pick.”

Five pairs of reading glasses

“I lose them a lot, but then I find them later.”

Magnifying glass

“It’s about five inches in diameter. That’s what I used before I admitted to myself I needed glasses. I don’t throw anything away, if you couldn’t tell.”

Newt Gingrich world view of anti-trump protest

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Newt Gingrich described the president’s opponents as those who “went through a psychotic episode and are having the political equivalent of PTSD. And when they wake up in the morning to the genius that Trump is, he tweets and they say, ‘Oh my God! He’s still president!’ And they get sicker.”

Referring to Trump’s advisers, Gingrich said, “They should take solace in the fact that we must be winning, since these people are so crazy. They used to be passive because they thought they were the future. Now they know we’re the future, and it’s driving them nuts.”

Ralph Steadman’s D.C. retrospective often shines a ‘gonzo’ light on America

SOMETIMES IT takes a prominent visiting writer or artist — from de Tocqueville to, say, Bono — to serve up a storyteller’s view of the United States that is one shot of awed wonder and two shots of bracing honesty. Along that continuum of colorful outsider perspectives sits Ralph Steadman, that savage ink-slinging satirist from Kent who depicts the land of the free as a minefield of bullies and blowhards and presidents, not necessarily in that order and not without some redundancy.

Steadman is the British/Welsh illustrator best known to the American masses as the journalistic “gonzo” accomplice of Hunter S. Thompson. While Thompson’s altered-state takedowns often skewered his homeland — including the bourbon-soaked Kentucky Derby “gentry” of his old Kentucky home for Scanlan’s Monthly — Steadman provided the gorgeously grotesque art. While they lived alongside the purposefully trippy prose, his images retained their own critical distance of the gimlet-eyed foreign tourist satirizing the trappings and illusions of the American Dream. They still reflect the resonant reason “Breaking Bad” creator Vince Gilligan calls Steadman “the Walter White of artists” whose “dark genius” — including his graphic knack for exposing us to raw, visceral truths — is “disturbing.”

“I was the innocent abroad,” Steadman says of that inaugural Louisville teaming with Thompson in 1970 that kicked off years of fruitful, sometimes fractious collaborations, including their tales of “Fear and Loathing,” from Vegas to Washington, as published in Rolling Stone. Yet even the year before that, Steadman had cast his skewed view toward the United States in a profanely flatulent take on President Richard Nixon.

Sitting a stone’s throw from the White House not long before Independence Day, the visiting Steadman reflects on Nixon — on what fun the president was to caricature, including for Thompson’s dispatches that were collected as “Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72.”

Steadman then pivots to the present day, drawing a comparison to President Trump. “With Nixon, he was at least a politician,” says Steadman, letting his words hang in the air like a satiric word balloon.

The rock-star illustrator’s renderings of Nixon and Trump are rightly included in an exquisite exhibit titled “Ralph Steadman: A Retrospective,” originally curated by the Cartoon Museum in London and now on view at the American University Museum’s Katzen Arts Center through Aug. 12.

Ralph Steadman slings ink at his home studio in Maidstone, Kent. (Rikard Osterlund)

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