(For details on the Hank Williams birthday contest, click here.)
A lot of us involved in the Reinstate Hank Williams movement talk at length about his importance to The Grand Ole Opry and country music. But we may not emphasize his importance on music as a whole, or on American culture and even the culture of the world enough.
To give an example of this I want to tell a story.
A few weeks back you may have noticed my blogs dried up a little bit. That is because I was on a music tour with a few other musicians. I didn’t talk about it because I don’t like to talk about myself here, and it was more of a rock than a country project.
But one of the people I was touring with was this underground artist from New York named Paleface. He was one of the founding members of the New York anti-folk scene, a scene that created artists like Beck. In 1991, Paleface was signed to a major label, and his manager was Danny Fields, the legendary manager for punk bands like The Ramones and The Stooges.
So here I was, hanging out with this guy born and raised in NYC, who played folk and rock, and cut his teeth hanging around punks. The last thing I expected to hear him play was a song canonizing Hank Williams, but there we were, the last day of the tour, and he’s playing a song called “Hank Williams From His Grave.” He wrote the song in 1991, and it was on his first album. I encouraged him to make a video of it, because the original version is no longer being published and is hard to get. So here he is performing the song with his drummer and squeeze, Monica Samalot, in a video they just released today, Sep. 17th, Hank Williams’ birthday:
That video is so poignant, I have goosebumps as I write this. Man. It is about destiny. It is such a wise way to look at the Hank Williams life. Pain ran through Hank’s lyrics and his voice, like they were the foundation of everything he did. Listening to this song, your reminded that Hank Williams was aware of his own mortality almost every waking minute. The fact that the last song he wrote was “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive,” exemplifies this, and just gives you chills.
And then how perfect was it that a train came rolling by the cemetery right in the middle of the song, but then left quickly, almost to pay tribute, but to not interrupt the moment. There was something American Gothic and soulful about that performance, and the life of Hank Williams.
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Later on that same night I first heard “Hank Williams From His Grave” we were in the heart of Hollywood, CA. We had arrived late and I was hungry so I dashed out the door looking for some cheap food. I’m a country rat, not a city rat, and any downtown disorients me, especially downtown Hollywood, but I found a cheap pizza place on the corner and went inside. After I was done eating I walked outside and looked both ways, trying to figure out where I needed to go to get back to the music venue. That is when I noticed that I was on Hollywood Boulevard, the one with all the famous stars on the sidewalk. Then I look down between my legs, and right outside of that pizza place, and no kidding, this is whose star I see:
It was complete coincidence. That was the only star I saw before I had to boogie. It was then and there I had an epiphany about Hank Williams. We all canonize him, sometimes at nauseum, but it just might be true that you cannot overstate Hank Williams’ impact on the American culture. His short life runs like a long thread through America, from the big city of New York, all the way across the country to the glitz of Hollywood. Wherever you look, Hank Williams is there.
One can only guess what American culture might look like, and sound like if Hank Williams had never lived. But my guess is it would have a lot less soul.
Happy Birthday Hank.
(You can check out Paleface on MySpace HERE, and stay tuned for an interview I did with him as well.)