We are “self-isolating” now. In the vernacular of those who can’t seem to avoid throwing awkward words together, we’re “social distancing.” I’m staying six feet away from those phrases. I don’t know what you call it. I’m staying at home, discovering some joy in simple, forgotten things. That’s more of a mouthful than the two-word, noun-denying affliction above, but at an age when time is running out, I keep trying to get things right.
I’m writing more often during the day. I do that only when an idea has rattled around in my head, worn smooth as a polished rock. I’m compelled to spit it out. My compulsion is only palliative. I’ve never found a cure.
Thanks to technology, Hank Williams and I have been hanging out together the past few weeks. Not the “Are You Ready For Some Football” Hank Williams. The other one. The original. When I was a young college student, I convinced myself that I disliked country music. It reminded me of who and what I was—a provincial fool. Years later, after I grew a brain, I heard Hank singing one day and realized I had forgotten about him. So for those of you out there who despise the twangy and simplistic tortured love of real country music, I’m here to tell you that I am now old enough to not care what you think of me. As they say, that’s none of my business.
I don’t care for the current music that is, for some reason, still called “country.” I know nothing about that. But if you know Hank’s story, you understand that some things never change. The most talented among us are often the most tortured souls on earth.
You can learn about how country music began—where it began, how it came to be—in thousands of places today. I have found the story fascinating. You’ll hear some names of the true pioneers of that genre. Jimmy Rodgers, the Carter Family among others. And later, How Willie Nelson was broke and drunk and sold “Crazy” to an up-and-coming Patsy Cline. And you may, like me, think about why it seems the good die young.
Hank Williams died at 29 in the back seat of a car on a cold, wintery road in West Virginia, with a broken-down spine, shot full of morphine, alcohol and God knows what else. I can’t remember if he was married or divorced at the time. He left behind a trail of cancelled performances and an angry music industry fed up with his unpredictable behavior. In a career lasting less than ten years, he had created hundreds—hundreds— of popular recordings, many of which are still being played today. Twenty-nine. Dead and cold in the back seat of a car.
His marriage was an on-again, off-again love/hate relationship. Lots of shouting, throwing things, name-calling. Hank was no angel—neither was Audrey. There are always two sides to a pancake. I’m sure that lady had stories to tell, but she didn’t have his ability to tell them. Hank’s story is in the songs; he loved her and she drove him crazy. There’s an old axiom in country music: “To sing a country song, all you need are three chords and the truth.” Boy howdy.
So this one’s for Hank. If you secretly listen to old country music when nobody’s watching, and if you usually pretend that you can’t stand nasally twang, why you just give “Crazy Heart” a listen and see if I’m not right.