Angel From Montgomery

15 Oct

ETA:  I hesitate to make these posts too long and too introspective, as sometimes I get the feeling that it just bores the reader or it’s too long for people to get interested in.  However, with few people commenting, I figured, “What the hell…”  While I don’t always have the time available to expound as much as I would like, I think the better pieces are those that do go into some detail.  So….

I got to thinking about why this song “hits” me.  I think there is a common theme for me of unrealized dreams.  Not that my life is bad.  Quite the contrary.  I’m living the great, middle-class American life.  I’m married to my soul mate (truly), we have three successful and well-balanced sons, I have a good job that more than pays the bills, LSU is winning and most importantly, everyone is healthy.  So, why am I not overjoyed and buoyant all of the time?  It’s a question I constantly ask myself.

Is it an inherent prohibition on letting myself be happy?  A long time ago, after a bitter break-up, a boyfriend told me that I’d never be happy.  That I just wouldn’t let myself.  Those words ring in my head every so often and I have to wonder if he was right.

Or is it that there is no real sense of self?  I think that somewhere, I lost my identity.  In the day to day grind of work, house, kids, husband, hobbies, etc., “I” got lost.  I think that’s what this song says to me.  Life is now more than half over and hasn’t the majority of it just been “one foot in front of the other”, day in and day out?  Where’s the adventure?  Where’s the passion?  Where’s the fun?

I think that’s the premise of Angel from Montgomery and what Prine was trying to convey.  For me, it’s just a song that is painful.  Not a sharp pain that brings back a undesirable memory but more of a dull, aching, dread.

While I like Prine’s masculine version, I think the Raitt and Tedeschi version are what provide the sensation that only a woman can deliver…a guttural pleading for something to provide adventure, passion and fun.

Paxil, anyone?


Made a trip up to Montgomery yesterday for a Mini DD soccer game. On these 2-3 hour jaunts, I like to listen to what I call “road music” to help the trip go by faster and get my mind off the endless asphalt in front of me. The trip and my road mix got me to thinking about one of my favorite songs in this mix — Susan Tedeschi’s Angel from Montgomery.

The song was written, however, by John Prine for his debut album back in 1972. Here is John’s own explanation of the song as well as his original version:

Angel from Montgomery has been covered by several artists, including Bonnie Raitt:

Each has it’s own pain and provides a different level of emotion. Susan Tedeschi’s version is bluesy and melancholy. Prine’s version is wistful and sad, while Bonnie Raitt’s version is downright despair.

NOTE: You know you’re doing alright when Bruce Hornsby, Brian Adams and Jackson Brown are your back-up singers.

For good measure, here is a duet of John Prine & Bonnie Raitt. This version is very different, to me, than the Bonnie Raitt or John Prine solo versions above.

Very interesting how one song, ostensibly performed at a similar tempo, can convey such subtlety of emotion. It’s like sharpening a knife or fine tuning a radio.


Posted by on October 15, 2007 in acoustic, blues


31 responses to “Angel From Montgomery

  1. shrewspeaks

    October 15, 2007 at 4:03 pm

    Blast no speakers…I curse you IT department

  2. music maven

    October 15, 2007 at 8:16 pm

    “Make me a poster from an old rodeo….”

    Really thought this would garner some comments. This song is so powerful…just so representative of time passing and regrets.

    Life passes so quick and so few of us have the opportunity to really pursue or realize their dream or “desire of their heart”.

    Off to drink a bottle of wine…….

  3. Little Deb

    October 16, 2007 at 8:53 am

    Wow. I hate to admit that I never really listened to the lyrics of this song. I’m mostly “all about the lyrics”. MM, I can really relate to the “I won’t let myself be happy” sentiment. I also have a good life and I’ve realized recently that I sometimes use the excuse of “I hate living where I live and would be so much happier back in Florida”. The wonderful vacation I just got back from made me realize that I had the same “unrealized dreams” when I lived there and even when I lived in the Bahamas (sorry to bring that up again lol). I’ll save the deeper thoughts for the therapist….. I’m certainly not a depressed person, just do a lot of thinking that “the grass is greener”.

    The lyrics that really touched me were these:

    “How the hell can a person go to work in the morning
    And come home in the evening and have nothing to say.”

    I will say that spending our 20th anniversary in the same place that we started our relationship all those years ago really did a lot of “rekindling” for dh and I. I can actually say that it’s good to be home…….just hope that this winter is a mild one!

  4. jenfera

    October 16, 2007 at 9:08 am

    MM, I would have thought more people would have something to say about brussels sprouts too. (love them! Hate them! Something?) Don’t you hate it when a post doesn’t garner many comments? Makes me feel unloved.

    I am not overly familiar with this song, but I know that Bonnie is good at churning up emotions.

    Your comments tie in with the discussion from last week both here and at Shrew’s about dreams. Sometimes they give you hope, and sometimes they are depressing. I dream about seeing the world, tasting cuisines from everywhere, experiencing Life, but I know that dream isn’t practical. I have bills to pay and a husband who isn’t all that fond of flying. Even when your life is pretty good, and mine is too, there will probably still be things you long for. I think that’s normal.

  5. brc

    October 16, 2007 at 9:51 am

    Gosh… our little group is getting very introspective these days. Reading your addition to the post was a bit weird as I had just had a conversation with my neighbor that addressed the same basic issue…

    I have a wonderful husband and two lovely children. Though we have had significant health issues this year, it’s nothing we can’t deal with. We live in an upper middle-class neighborhood in a very nice home that we recently expanded. I work for myself in a job that offers me both flexibility and better than average financial compensation. We travel to Spain every couple of years to visit my husband’s family. I have several really good friends and dozens of delightful neighbors. We go to a church that I adore and where the people are very caring and compassionate. I help out at school and at church at every opportunity.

    So why is it that I feel like my life is just checking off items on my “to do” list? Why is it that I’m not “happy?” With all the misery and sadness in the world, I feel like I have no right whatsoever to be dissatisfied. I turn 46 in two months… maybe it’s a midlife crisis?

    I like Susan Tedeschi’s version of the song the best. It was helpful to hear Prine’s explanation of the song. However I think in light of his explanation the song is better performed by a woman. I think Raitt’s version is too desperate.

    I’d like to add something totally unrelated and hopefully a little lighter. Yesterday I was at the store and heard Taylor singing Just to Feel that Way on the store speakers. It was the first time I had ever heard Taylor outside of my computer or a live concert. It was sort of surreal!

  6. music maven

    October 16, 2007 at 9:56 am

    jen — I still have not figured out how to comment (because I is super lazy) at Valley Victuals, but I LERVE Brussel Sprouts. Somebody told me to cut them in half, brush with olive oil and sprinkle with garlic salt, then broil for about 8 minutes. MMMMMM.

    Even Mini DD loves Brussel Sprouts, but then again, he likes spinach too…but hates cheese and mayo. Go figure.

    So, I guess my question is does the majority of every day people contemplate “unrealized dreams” and feel this way? What are the percentage of people who actually DO realize their dreams? Are they really fulfilled or is it the more we get, the more we want? Are we all just spoiled?

  7. brc

    October 16, 2007 at 10:08 am

    I would imagine that very few people are truly “fulfilled.” Maybe we are spoiled. Maybe we just have the luxury of being able to think about things other than how we’re going to pay the mortgage or where the next meal is going to come from.

  8. music maven

    October 16, 2007 at 10:43 am

    That’s what I mean, brc. Maybe we have the luxury of dreams, albeit unfulfilled, while others are just trying to survive another day — literally.

    ….is ashamed.

  9. jenfera

    October 16, 2007 at 10:44 am

    MM, I wish I could help you with your commenting issues at VV, but it is a corporate thingie-dooey, and I don’t have access to fix it. I hate the way that is set up. Even if you check off “remember me” it never does.

    So, I suggest if you have trouble, just pick a new name. Just make sure it is something I will recognize as you, cuz I’d love to see ya there!

    I think we all wonder about the possibilities. What if I hadn’t been so timid about college? What if I stayed at one school and didn’t change my major 5 times? What if I didn’t move here? What if I met someone who didn’t already have kids of their own? Would I have ended up having one of my own? Would I have been a good mother?

    I don’t know if that makes us spoiled, or just curious! So long as you don’t dwell on it. If we use Taylor as an example – he won Amercian Idol, got a recording contract – fulfilled a dream, right? But is his life perfect now? I doubt it. Would any of us blame him if he wished for other things too? Wished his album had sold better? Wished his fans weren’t so weird? I know I wouldn’t blame him.

  10. music maven

    October 16, 2007 at 11:04 am

    Good point, Jen. It’s likely that even “Confetti Man” has “unfulfilled dreams”. I think that we (or at least I) take alot for granted. I just so want to be satisfied with how things are…without being complacent, of course. 🙂

    Chasing my tail much?

    p.s. I will try to register again and use something clever so you can recognize me…like, Angel from Montgomery…um, Mobile.

  11. shrewspeaks

    October 16, 2007 at 1:25 pm

    Okay…first…don’t ever be fearful that your posts are too long if they are phrased as the one above. Your personal account and connection is what MAKES this site as rich as it is. It’s these posts when you let it all hang out there that are the ones that really spark great conversations…

    “There’s flies in the kitchen I can hear ’em there buzzing
    And I ain’t done nothing since I woke up today.
    How the hell can a person go to work in the morning
    And come home in the evening and have nothing to say.” …how apt with what we are all feeling these days. I looked it up seems Prine wrote this from a woman’s that true?

  12. huckleberryfriend

    October 16, 2007 at 3:00 pm

    I’ve decided to just call a “Mulligans” and have a do over on the last 10 years!

  13. morewines

    October 17, 2007 at 12:40 am

    It’s Bonnie Raitt’s version that always makes
    me stop and listen.

    Have you really lost yourself. Don’t hobbies
    represent somewhat, what we are about as a person. Not sure what your etc means.

    If anyone has regrets for things said/done in the past it only makes us better going forward.
    That’s how I see it.

  14. basilrac

    September 12, 2012 at 4:34 pm

    I think you are spot on. 20 years ago I simply loved the soothing soulful sound, and the line about ‘my old man.’ I thought the lyrics were about wanting to run away from a small town, and the ex-jerk that took away her dreams. Now that I am a 41 YO stay-at-home mom I am hearing the song in a whole new light. Now it is about the monotony of every day life.

    For me – someday’s the dishes piled up in the sink are why the flies are buzzing. No one notices and/or cares that she is depressed. No one helps. And someday’s – the flies buzzing are the well-meaning women in her life – sisters, mother, friends – that are in the kitchen talking/gossiping about her as though she can’t hear them. She doesn’t care. But she wishes that she did … ‘give me something to hold onto.’

    The things she always wanted to accomplish for herself have been buried under the weight of the needs of the husband she supports, kids she is raising, ..etc.. everyone else’s needs. There is nothing left for herself at the end of the day. The hope of achieving her dreams are gone. She is begging to believe again, to hope again, for the day and the desire to get back to being true to herself… to see the light at the end of the tunnel… to know that this phase will pass… to know the thrill of life again… to know that her lover still lovers her… and to know if the relationship is even worth the effort to her anymore.

    ‘No matter how I try’ = I did my best, but my best wasn’t good enough.

    ‘To believe in this living’ = She now wants to know if this IS as good as it gets.

  15. charley

    December 23, 2012 at 10:54 pm

    Perhaps you haven’t heard the other verse which I feel explains more effectively what he was trying to say:

    Eating half-stale cornbread
    as dry as the roadside
    with a taste so familiar
    It’s like no taste at all

    The years of my lifetime
    My days of these hours
    With nothing to change
    but the lines on my face

    What a great poet Mr. Prine was! I don’t know why he chose not to use this verse.

  16. mark

    April 22, 2013 at 11:32 pm

    The real pull is the longing for something you can’t have; the time back. Make me a poster from an old rodeo; somebody made such a thing once but you can’t really make a poster from an old rodeo. The mind numbing nature of routine that we tend to fall in as a life goes is captured by work all day and nothing to say line. the artist gets the final image. The final slice of regret comes with the line about the young cow boy that she had that was not much to look at; the low social status; but the freedom he represents. John Prine really gets the punch per word. My hats off to him.

  17. Ricardo

    July 16, 2014 at 12:06 am

    I like a lot this song, But what happens in Montgomery?, There are angels there?, if so, are they specials?

    • Mark Moses Mcgoveran

      December 15, 2014 at 10:53 am

      I don’t think montgomery has special significance I could be wrong. A bit of poet speculation no one will agree with, this is kind of race horse gate analysis, the horse just runs well, I look at why, the horse doesn’t. 1.montgomery (the sounds are all soft). the beat fits the song MONT gom ER ee.The second stressed syllable is softer than the first (MONT >er). This declining pattern of explosiveness in sound give the song extra punch, towards the feelings.Build is an action word flies is an action word both start with fricatives. If you look at cultural vibe of montgomery it is the old south, civil rights movement. “find me a fellow that flies fresh from frisco” fits the rhythm pattern but has five starting fricatives. It also has a feeling of action, and frisco is not associated culturally with old stuff, like montgomery.Every image he paints in the song is a past happiness or function that is over. The general implication of regret over choices weaves through this piece.

      • Charley Price

        December 16, 2014 at 7:56 pm

        I don’t think the angel is special other than its flying. Montgomery is a bummer place to live (50th in education nationwide, big environmental issues, lots of closed minded homophobic racist people, no beach, etc.) and she wants to fly away.

        Sent from my iPhone


      • music maven

        December 17, 2014 at 9:42 am

        Yes, she wants to be “taken away” from her current drudgery. Montgomery is just a place, where she is…feeling tired, unappreciated, and that her life has slipped away.

  18. rlc

    September 5, 2014 at 2:18 pm

    I love John Prine’s writing, and Angel From Montgomery may be my favorite. The Had Me a Cowboy and especially the Flies in the Kitchen lines are especially meaningful. I just heard the song on American Routes, and once again wondered what John is referring to in “Make me an angel that flies from Montgomery/Make me a poster from an old rodeo. I goggled the question, which brought me to your site. I attempted to play your posting of John Prine explaining the song, but it is no longer available. I then wondered about Hank Williams relating to Angel From Montgomery, and found some support for that. So, I guess, a Poster from an old rodeo probably ties in with the middle aged/elderly longing for the excitement of the past and dissatisfaction with the dullness of current life.
    In any event, I enjoyed reading the posts.
    Also, my little sister (Baton Rouge) enjoys all things LSU. As do we, unless they are playing UK or Louisville.

  19. rlc

    September 5, 2014 at 2:23 pm

    btw, while our bodies are less agile, we have been rather successful in keeping our connection strong throughout our 49 years of marriage. I have often wondered why John Prine’s sad writings have so much appeal for me. Perhaps, like Bob Dylan, so many of his lyrics seem to be well written short stories–example “Hello In There”. I can see the old person in the song, and go out of my way to nod/say hello when I see them on the street.

  20. Dave

    January 26, 2015 at 8:28 am

    For those asking about angels and Montgomery….don’t know where i heard it and can’t find it on the Internet…but this rings totally true to me: I have heard tell that if you are on death row in Alabama, an Angel from Montgomery is the much desired (and very rare) clemency from the governor (who sits in the capital of Alabama, Montgomery). Mind blowing, eh?

  21. Jim Sallie

    October 3, 2015 at 4:31 pm

    I can’t say I was familiar with this song. A WV girl auditioned for “The Voice” with it. I then listened to many artists perform it. I downloaded her full version and I think it is the best I’ve heard. I think she captures the emotion of the song well. It is an interesting song to remind us that time is fleeting and our desire to grab hold of something solid. The present may not be great but it is where we are. “It’s a hard way to go.”

  22. Bill Hair

    December 14, 2015 at 10:23 pm

    This song is Prine in his Prime_ so 2speak. These lyrics r so consise. Brevity being the soul ov this song. Yet, it isnt short on meaning or interpretation. . the term Angel from Montgomery_ what the inmates on death row in Alabama used a a term for a Stay ov Execution. So Ive heard. Which makes the title and song_ even more powerful. John Prine is probably the most under rated songwriter ever. In the same zip code as_ Dylan and Townes and Cohen.

    • Robert

      December 15, 2015 at 11:24 am

      I am in complete agreement with your statement that:

      “John Prine is probably the most under rated songwriter ever. In the same zip code as_ Dylan and Townes and Cohen.”

      They are all literary short story writers.

  23. Chris Foster

    April 30, 2018 at 4:09 pm

    I do not understand the lyric that goes “if dreams were thunder and lightning was desire, this house woulda burned down a long time ago.” Did the lightning strike the house and cause it to burn down? The woman still has dreams and desires so why would the house have burned down?

    • music maven

      April 30, 2018 at 5:43 pm

      I think that it means that she had tremendous dreams and desires and if they were thunder and lightning, there was so much and so strong, that it would have burned down the house. She lives a redundant and uneventful life and her thoughts/dreams/desire continually provide a powerful force of regret and disappointment.

  24. webmeist

    April 13, 2019 at 1:07 pm

    Thank you so much.
    I love that song, who doesn’t?
    But I was too thinking of that line, and you just explained it.
    You don’t really know life in Murcia until you spend time in jail in the south.


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