Monday, 3 February 2014
THE HANK WILLIAMS READER book review
From circus to country music... more than 60 years after Hank Williams passed away in the back of his chauffeured Cadillac in the small hours of New Year's Day, 1953, this new book, The Hank Williams Reader, celebrates the enduring legend of the Father of Country Music.
The book contains more than 60 articles, essays and book extracts written during Hank's lifetime and in the decades since, which have seen him become recognised as one of the most important figures in American music history.
Contributors include Bob Dylan, Steve Earle and... Circus Mania author Douglas McPherson, who contributed the article Sex, Drugs and Country Music - A Profile of Hank Williams, America's Darkest Legend.
But although I'm in it, and might therefore be considered somewhat biased, I have to say that this is an incredibly good portrait of Hank's life and legacy.
They say journalism is the first draft of history, but wait long enough and the contemporaneous accounts of journalists, unfiltered by the benefit of hindsight, become a walk through history itself, and that is what has happened to the many articles gathered in this volume.
The editors have done a tremendous job in bringing us the earliest newspaper features that were written about the singer in his lifetime. From there, the articles move forward through time to show us the reports of his death and funeral - which drew 20,000 people from all walks of society. It was the biggest funeral the southern states had ever seen.
Readers letters to newspapers reveal the depth of the loss felt by his fans. But as we move onwards through the posthumous writing about his life we see the many ways in which people have tried to interpret or shape his story, from tabloid writers who sought to sensationalise it, to family members who tried to sanitise it and diligent music historians who strove to uncover the truth decades later.
The book ends with an extract from Steve Earle's novel, I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive, in which the drug-addled anti-hero is haunted by Hank Williams' ghost.
From living picker and singer to fictional character, the Hank Williams Reader takes us on a rollercoaster journey through the making of an American legend. It's a remarkable book, and having read it, I feel honoured that my essay, written 20 years ago at the very beginning of my career, was considered worthy of inclusion in what I have no doubt will endure as one of the most important works on one of music's most important figures.
Published by Oxford University Press, the Hank Williams Reader can be ordered from Amazon by clicking here.
Update: Nice to have a quote from my article singled out in a review of the Hank Williams Reader in no less a publication than the Wall Street Journal:
"British entertainment writer Douglas McPherson fantasized in 1978 that "perhaps his ghost is there in the smoke and whisky fumes as some unknown singer shoots up, drinks up, and carrying his guitar in trembling hands, walks into the blinding spotlight. . . . Perhaps he is . . . trading guitar licks or one last beer with Gene Vincent, Sid Vicious and Elvis Presley. "
Click here to read the review.
Click here for some country songs about the circus.