John Prine in Copenhagen
John Prine in Copenhagen

We got seats with a good view of the stage, but had the great luck to arrive before they started charging a cover. Now it was getting more crowded. So we shared our spot with a Danish businessman, an impish man with vivid blue eyes and a burning desire to talk to strangers. We talked politics, migration, unemployment benefits and so on as the band was warming up. And then the lyrics caught my ear:

What in the world has come over you,
what in heaven’s name have you done?
You’ve broken the speed of the sound of loneliness,
you’re out there running just to be on the run...

“He’s playing John Prine!”

The singer looked every bit the part, a Nashville cliche walking the old streets of Copenhagen. He segued into “Angel from Montgomery” and then took a break to get a drink.

“I’m a big fan of John Prine” I offered as the singer walked by. He stopped to chat. We compared notes and found that we had all done time in the south as children. We talked about Mr. Prine’s genius. His failing health. The impish Dane soaked up all of our non-local local color.

And then the singer moved on, and so our discussion returned to politics. A month ago, in the square just outside the window, there had been a riot. A local Dane, anti-immigration activist, had figured out the formula: Dane’s have well protected rights of free expression, and if they intend to publicly say things that will get them in trouble, they get police protection so they can say it anyway. This protection applies equally to all walks of life. But therein lies the rub: It’s the Muslims who take offence. Muslims could stand on the corner preaching. They could tear up Bibles (Not that they would! Respect for religion in general is a high priority for them) and at most get a few jeers. No violence.

So this Dane goes around toying with a Quran and provoking fights. Muslims who try to attack him get taken down by the cops for their trouble. This further angers the other Muslims who feel the wrong person has a knee on their back and cuffs on, and things reliably spiral out of control.

Cars were burned. People were hurt. A big mess was made.

Our impish businessman interlocutor thinks this guy is an asshole. Causing trouble. A stupid stunt. But he also doesn’t want to pay unemployment benefits for all these newcomers. Who likes it when the new guys burn their cars, break their windows, and ignore their cultural norms?

Just then the singer on stage got around to the John Prine part of the set and dedicated it to us, his friends from the south east. One thing I really like about John Prine is he rarely gets right to the point. This is pretty direct for him:

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.

But these days I think perhaps this is more suitable:

Things got rough
Things got tough
Things got harder than hard
We were just trying to make a livin'
In our back yard

We were born too late died to soon
Anxiety's a terrible crime
If you don't come now don't come at all
'cause it's a crooked piece of time

It's a crooked piece of time that we live in
A crooked piece of time
All in all and all in all
It's a crooked piece of time