When I hear the name John Prine, I think of Rwanda in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide. Yesterday, John Prine died from Covid-19. Yesterday was also the 26th anniversary of the start of that 100 days of slaughter in Rwanda.
So yesterday morning on CBC Radio, I listened to Lt.-Gen. (Ret.) Roméo Dallaire talk about Rwanda. He also talked about the threat right now of the coronavirus and its possible long term psychological effects. Later, at the end of the day, I heard that John Prine had died. A circle come around.
Both these things made me think of Radio CFRK. That was the small radio station that UN peacekeepers set up in Amahoro Stadium in Kigali. One watt, enough to be heard throughout the city. I spent time in the makeshift studio with the DJ for the Downhomer show. Each province had its time slot and its DJs. They aired the music they liked.
Big Old Goofy World – Live in Kigali!
The Downhomer’s Newfoundland DJ liked John Prine. I taped him doing a mock interview with John Prine, doing both voices himself – “Live in Kigali.” Then he sang along, off air, as he played “Big Old Goofy World.” Fitting for the place and time.
It was the first time I’d ever heard John Prine, and I liked what I heard. So when I heard Mr. Prine was ill and hospitalized, like everyone who was a fan, I felt sad for a great songwriter. And I thought of that little radio station and the soldiers who tried to keep spirits up by playing music they figured their fellow soldiers and the people of Kigali might like.
Gen. Dallaire knows first hand the trauma of conflict, of trying to provide services and broker reconciliation. He was not in Rwanda when I was there, a few months after the genocide ended. But I remember the respect with which he was mentioned by the troops who were there with him, as well as those who came later.
It’s a big old goofy world again. A different kind of goofy, different kind of danger. I’m sorry that this one took John Prine from his family and all of us. But I like to think of the solace and enjoyment that he gave at another time of danger. Thank you, Mr. Prine. Thanks also to Gen. Dallaire and to the soldiers who built and staffed CFRK in your off duty time.
Thanks to the Canadian Armed Forces, regular and reservists, for your help in this crisis at home. We’re all singing along with John Prine now.