A moving song from John Prine about the ravages of mountaintop removal coal mining is still relevant today.
In addition to the country classic “Angel from Montgomery,” legendary singer-songwriter John Prine wrote the moving song “Paradise” about a once beautiful Kentucky town laid to waste by the coal mining company. It was written for his father. The song appeared on Prine’s 1971 debut album, at a time when mountaintop removal mining—in which mountaintops are blasted to expose the coal seams underneath, leaving a scarred, naked landscape and rivers and streams choked with debris—was just coming of age. In the song, he describes it like this: “Then the coal company came with the world’s largest shovel / And they tortured the timber and stripped all the land / Well, they dug for their coal till the land was forsaken / Then they wrote it all down as the progress of man.”
At current rates, mountaintop removal mining is likely to destroy 1.4 million acres of land by 2020; 2,000 miles of streams have already been destroyed by the waste the practice creates. It has taken these decades for the country to realize the tragic loss of blowing up mountains and destroying waterways in what was once beautiful, wild land. The loss is captured so poignantly in Prine’s song, still relevant today: “And daddy won’t you take me back to Muhlenberg County / Down by the Green River where Paradise lay / Well, I’m sorry my son, but you’re too late in asking / Mister Peabody’s coal train has hauled it away.”