Hank, Cormac, and Daddy

from left to right, Cormac McCarthy, Hank Williams, Sr., Wesley Moore, Jr.

“Scars have the strange power to remind us that our past is real.”

Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses


I want some old school raspy voiced chain-smoking musician from Alabama or Mississippi to write me a song called “Crushed Out Cigarette in Hank Williams’ Ashtray.”

Hank was high-strung, jittery, an ADD-riddled Cormac McCarthy. The glass ain’t half full with them two, and their assessment of the glass ain’t even as positive as half empty. The glass is half-empty and carcinogenic. [1]

I remember being a kid at The North-52 Drive-in with my parents and seeing the trailer for Your Cheating Heart, a biopic of Hank’s life starring George Hamilton with Hank Jr. providing the soundtrack vocals.[2] In the olden days, I’d have to describe the trailer for you based on my short-circuiting memory, but now you can see for yourself.

 

 

At the drive-in some of these scenes hit home a little too familiarly. In other words, I could relate. Like Hank, my daddy could be sweet and generous, but, like Hank, he had a fuse so short static electricity could set him off, especially if he’d been drinking, Nor was my daddy what you would call a feminist.

Like Hank, Daddy felt the urge to create. He rendered in shoe polish on our dining room wall a credible copy of the Elizabeth O’Neill Verner’s The Lesesne Gates, 14 Greene Street. Late in life, he sculpted gnomes, which weren’t nearly as good as the mural. Not only was he creative in the visual arts, he was also scientifically inventive. He received a patent for a sonar-operated weir for sewer treatment plants, but rather than selling the patent, he tried to manufacture the product himself and went broke.

I wish I had a photo of the wall, but I don’t think we ever owned a camera. The wall’s been painted over three or four times. I do have half of a gnome, though, which I keep hidden in the closet of my classroom. Because they were never baked, they eventually fell apart.

Hank’s works, however, survive and will as long as humans are around to strum guitars. His pain lives on in a meaningful way. Listen to Lucinda pass it along to us.

 

 

I raise my glass to dissonance, to sweet songs of sorrow, to Hank and Cormac and Daddy.

Wesley Edward Moore, Jr.


[1] To my ear “ain’t” is a lovely word with that mournful diphthong.

[2] Actually Hamilton looks more like Townes Van Zandt than he does Hank.

Hank and Townes: Long Gone Daddies

hank and townesToday, January 1st, marks the anniversary of the deaths of two great American songwriters, Hank Williams in 1953 and Townes Van Zandt in 1997.   In addition to their coincidental departure dates, these two shared a lot in common.

They were both long and lanky long gone daddies with dark hair and eyes, and they both had what my granddaddy called “jug ears.” In fact, judging by these two accompanying photographs, I suspect that a DNA test would discover a shared ancestor in the not too distant past.

cropped hankdrunkcropped townes

More significantly, they also possessed the rare ability to create memorable melodies with song lyrics that can stand alone on a page without musical accompaniment.

First Hank:

Hear that lonesome whippoorwill.

He sounds too blue to fly.

The midnight train is whining low.

I’m so lonesome I could cry.

Then Townes:

Everything is not enough.

And nothin’ is too much to bear.

Where you’ve been is good and gone.

All you keep’s the getting there.

Well, to live is to fly, all low and high.

So shake the dust off of your wings

And the sleep out of your eyes.

Theirs was a tragic vision.  To quote Richard Sewell:

[The tragic vision] recalls the original terror, harking back to a world that antedates the conception of philosophy, the consolations of the later religions, and whatever constructions the human mind has devised to persuade itself that the universe is secure. It recalls the original un-reason, the terror of the irrational. It sees man as questioner, naked, unaccommodated, alone, facing mysterious, demonic forces in his own nature and outside, and the irreducible facts of suffering and death. Thus it is not for those who cannot live with unresolved questions or unresolved doubts, whose bent of mind would reduce the fact of evil into something else or resolve it into some larger whole.

Like their artistic archetype Edgar Allan Poe, throughout their abbreviated lives, they were besieged by “demonic forces in their own natures,” and like Poe, they attempted to neutralize those demons through drink and more exotic drugs — in Hank’s case, chloral hydrate and barbiturates, and in Townes’s, codeine and heroin.

However, when it comes to self-destruction, I don’t think either EA or Hank could hold a candle to Townes Van Zandt. Supposedly, Poe gambled to augment his stepfather’s meager allowance, but in Townes’s case, his gambling seemed a deep-seated masochistic addiction.

According to John Kruth’s biography, To Live’s to Fly, not only did Van Zandt literally lose shirts off his back, but in one card game, he also lost his gold dental inlays, which he pulled out with pliers and delivered on the spot as payment.   He also had the propensity to give all his hard earned money away to winos after getting paid for a gig.  Like a crazed character out of Dostoyevsky, he seemed to seek out suffering, perhaps for the sake of his art.

 

Year after year,

bottle after bottle,

for the sake of the song,

stumbling full throttle,

gig after gig,

swig after swig,

staggering through life,

for the sake of the song.

 

’97, New Year’s Day,

home from the hospital

he slipped away —

one hand on his heart,

the other on his flask —

the weight of the world

suddenly gone slack,

his windswept world,

forever gone black.

 

Some say he suffered

for the sake of the song,

cultivated sorrow

for the sake of the song.

 

Rot gut, suicides, needles, yellow fever,

all the hurt in the world out West,

took up residence in his hollow heart,

like a stick-stirred rattlesnake’s nest.

 

For the sake of the song,

for the sake of the song,

they say life is short,

but art is long.

 

For the sake of the song,

for the sake of the song,

right might not be right;

wrong might not be wrong.

 

 

RIP, boys.

A Hank Williams Villanelle

Click the grey arrow above for sound.

I say, ‘do like I say, not like I do’ –

“Sneaking Up Early on Miller Time.”

Now there’s a country title for you.

 

If you want to ‘scape what I been through –

same ol’, same ol, time after time –

I say, ‘do like I say and not like I do.’

 

Swap out that pint of Ol’ Crow for Betty Sue.

“Sinning Don’t Cause the Sun to Shine” –

now there’s a country title for you

 

courtesy of Mr. Honky Tonk Blues,

Mr. Living Hundred Proof, Mr. Vodka and Lime.

I say, ‘do like I say, not like I do,’

 

or you’re bound the coming days to rue.

“Being Alive Ain’t No Capital Crime” –

now there’s a country title for you.

 

Keep up that doping, and you’ll end up screwed,

dying in the backseat before your time.

I say, “Do Like I Say, Not Like I Do’ –

Now there’s a country song for you.

 Image