Bad news: Gene's not ready for Prine time

Gene Weingarten on

Me: One of my favorite lines is, "Sam Stone was alone / when he popped his last balloon / Climbin' walls while sittin' in a chair."

Over the years I have written about this line, which I consider deep and rich and brilliantly concise, expressing the man's excruciating frustration at his plight while, simultaneously, suggesting something that you do not otherwise directly say: that Sam is in a wheelchair, yet another physical casualty of a dreadful war.

When I recently mentioned this to friends, they actually contended I was wrong, that there is no such implication. I told them I would call you and if I was wrong, I would gnaw off one of my pinkie fingers.

John: You told them that?

Me: Yes!

John: You're gonna have to get out some Worcestershire sauce and pepper.


John: He was in a chair. People sit in chairs.

Me: Okay, wait (yes, I am actually about to attempt to convince John Prine he is wrong about his own song) , what about popping the balloon? As a Viet vet yourself, surely you recall that this was a term for accidentally overfilling a urine bag until it burst.


John: I totally hope you didn't bet the other pinkie.

Me: Oh no.

John: I meant a balloon. Like at a kid's birthday party. Last balloon, the end of Sam's joy. Also, I was drafted in '67, but I never went to Vietnam. They gave us an aptitude test, and it came out I was a mechanical genius, so they sent me to Germany to work on heavy equipment, even though I didn't know one end of a monkey wrench from the other. I spent the war drinking German beer.

So that's it, readers. My Marshall McLuhan moment!

Join me next week when I get Carly Simon to admit "You're So Vain" was actually about Rodney Dangerfield.


Gene Weingarten can be reached at Follow him on Twitter, @geneweingarten. Chat with him online Tuesdays at noon Eastern at

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