In 1971, a song titled “Paradise” began to play on the radio. It was penned and performed by country singer, John Prine. The song was written for Prine’s father. It was about the distressing impact of strip mining for coal, which changed the countryside in western Kentucky. During the 1960s, most companies are engaged in strip mining. The Peabody Coal Company was just one of those that were mentioned in the song. “Paradise” is a town in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky, where Tennessee Valley Authority operates a coal-fired plant.
“Paradise”, the Story
John Prine’s song, “Paradise” is also known by some as “Take Me Back To Muhlenberg County,” or “Mr. Peabody’s Coal Train.” John Prine was born in October 1946 and grew up in a Chicago suburb. His parents were Western Kentucky natives and residents until his father got away from being a coal miner and moved to Chicago. However, as a young boy, John spent his summer vacations with relatives in the town of Paradise. He took in the country atmosphere, culture, and wisdom of the region’s blue-collar scuffles.
The song then was inspired by the things Prine saw when he was a child. It is a song is about remembrance and loss.
Prine remembered happier times in that place, and saw it altered by the “progress of man.”
“Paradise” became something of an anthem for those trying to convey ecological law and order to the coal fields. Through the 1970s as well, a number of other famous musicians, who also helped spread the song’s message, covered the song. However, not everyone was excited by Prine’s song. Peabody Coal, for one, took issue with some of its claims. In 1973, as the company fought strip mine protestors, it offered a disproof to the song with a letter titled “Facts vs. Prine”. Its tirade noted,
“We probably helped supply the energy to make that recording that falsely names us as ‘hauling away’ Paradise, Kentucky.”
Prine may have taken some creative pass to his coal mining song, “Paradise”, especially mentioning the town and Peabody Coal.
Nevertheless, his message about the societal and environmental damages of strip mining during those years was right on balance.
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