Illegal Smile

Album: John Prine (1971)
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  • When I woke up this morning, things were lookin' bad
    Seem like total silence was the only friend I had
    Bowl of oatmeal tried to stare me down, and won
    And it was twelve o'clock before I realized
    I was havin' no fun

    Ah, but fortunately I have the key to escape reality
    And you may see me tonight with an illegal smile
    It don't cost very much, but it lasts a long while
    Won't you please tell the man I didn't kill anyone
    No, I'm just tryin' to have me some fun

    Last time I checked my bankroll
    It was gettin' thin
    Sometimes it seems like the bottom
    Is the only place I've been
    I chased a rainbow down a one-way street dead end
    And all my friends turned out to be insurance salesmen

    Ah, but fortunately I have the key to escape reality
    And you may see me tonight with an illegal smile
    It don't cost very much, but it lasts a long while
    Won't you please tell the man I didn't kill anyone
    No, I'm just tryin' to have me some fun

    Well, I sat down in my closet with all my overalls
    Tryin' to get away from all the ears inside my walls
    I dreamed the police heard everything I thought, what then?
    Well I went to court and the judge's name was Hoffman

    Ah, but fortunately I have the key to escape reality
    And you may see me tonight with an illegal smile
    It don't cost very much, but it lasts a long while
    Won't you please tell the man I didn't kill anyone
    No, I'm just tryin' to have me some fun
    Well done, hot dog bun, my sister's a nun Writer/s: John Prine
    Publisher: Warner Chappell Music, Inc.
    Lyrics licensed and provided by LyricFind

Comments: 9

  • Gumpa from JennerstownI love how everyone has their on play on the lyrics which is great , but John explained his meaning behind the lyrics so we can all argue over what we may think what they refer to...but you cant argue with him after all he wrote it he should know...lol
  • Crazy As A Loon from Lake MarieGo watch the movie, Trial of the Chicago Seven, and tell me that Judge Julius Hoffman isn’t the reference in the song. (Hint: read the preceding line in the song re. thought police).
  • Sabu from Dunedin FlaJohn wrote the songs for us to ponder upon a genius at messing with our heads in a positive way
  • Lucia from Upper Peninsula Of Michigan I just wondering if his sister really is a nun. Guess I'll go to a biography
  • Didjman from St. Louis, MissouriYou're welcome, Charles.
  • Charles from ClevelandThank you Didjman. While listening to the song just now I was wondering about the Judge Hoffman line and your explanation makes perfect sense and is also informative and interesting.
  • Didjman from St. Louis, MissouriThe theory about the Hoffman reference alluding to LSD is interesting, but almost certainly wrong.

    The discoverer of LSD spelled his last name as "Hofmann," and all of the lyrics for the song I've seen spell it as "Hoffman."

    Furthermore, the judge named "Hoffman" line comes in a verse, where Prine is listing the reasons for wanting to escape, and not in the chorus, where he describes escaping.

    Finally, the line almost certainly refers to Judge Julius Hoffman, who presided over the Chicago 8/7 trial, and was a noriously bad, biased judge.
  • Cliff from San Diego I used to listen to this song under the influence of LSD in my youth, back east... ‘it don’t cost very much, but it lasts a long while’. I’m very saddened to hear John has pneumonia in both lungs due to COVID-19. I’m hoping he recovers. Godspeed, JP!
  • The Real Truth from San Diego Really? Lol someone is fibbing. There is a clear LSD reference in not only with the Judge being named Hoffman (Albert Hoffman) the creator of LSD, but he has the key to escape reality. That key is 120 to 140 micrograms if the truth is told.
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