Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
Chicago songwriter Dick Prall is one of the many million take-it-where-you-can-get-it musicians, playing show after show, working for whatever small piece of the pie he can get on any given night. He's one of those hard-gigging musicians whose name you think you're seeing everywhere because he actually is everywhere and he's all of those places fairly frequently. He burns himself out and he goes through those periods of self-doubt and reflection often as well, wondering why it is he's working himself so hard for the few, but incredibly gratifying experiences that fuel all of his fires. He knows, deep down, that there are easier ways to make a living. None of them live up to what he believes a living should be though and that's where the buck stops. It's where his moments of pity, or whatever he'd like to call it, all evaporate and become wispy little footnotes that are quickly swept up into a dustpan and tossed into the garbage with all of the other shit that he intends to get out of the house the first chance he gets.
He was reminded of the reason that he does what he does - crafting sharp and significant, emotionally valid pop songs - when he spoke with his young, teenage daughter a few years ago, when she overheard him speaking with her mother about potentially cutting back on his playing and possibly shutting down the operation altogether. He'd gotten to the point where he regretted being away from his daughter for lengthy periods of time, for missing key occasions and for not being there for her in case she needed her dad. He felt that it was too much, that it was selfish and he'd begun to feel like it wasn't worth it as much as it used to be, but then she put it all into perspective for him. She told him that she was fine - not that she didn't need him, but that she was doing alright - and she openly expressed her concern about who her father would be if he didn't write and play songs. She told him that she didn't think that he would be the same person. He wouldn't know who he was. She told him, "You have to write songs."
It changed everything for Prall, a man who has made a modest career out of his resiliency and who probably had a beautiful, heaving and happy cry over that conversation, later that evening. In a way, it's one of those honest little fractions of time that Prall is the best at putting to music, one of those parts of our lives that - left to nature - get woven into the backdrop of all the harried action, but pound-for-pound were the parts that we are most living for. Prall is someone, after you've seen him perform live, who seems as if he was born to be a performer - lively and engaging. In conversation, he's the same way, collecting all manner of reference, character and anecdote to be spun together into something or nothing at all. He's just here, letting it all strike him how it may please and if anything becomes of it, that's fine. It will remain a part of his digestive process no matter what. He sings, "There's a million sappy reasons for all the shit that you've been through." It's a line, when he sings it, that is not meant to be an excuse, but an accusation, a trembling threat to get over yourself and just carry on with yourself - however you'd like to do it. He's a man of his word.
*Essay originally published May, 2011
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