I am not a big country music fan, but I am Texan by right of birth, born to country parents and growing up, eventually, in the country. My father and his family were farmers and cowboys. My own Uncle David, whose birthday I share, was a rodeo cowboy for a while. And thanks to the Cherokee blood running through our veins (not that you’d know it to look at me unless you notice my cheekbones), he looked every bit the dashing cowboy with striking blue eyes. And just like every cowboy I’ve ever read about or have known, he had a problem with alcohol. Why am I bringing this up? Because a few weeks ago I finished reading a biography about Hank Williams called Lovesick Blues by Paul Hemphill.
I grew up with country music thanks to my mom, my dad, and most of the people around me. I would fall asleep listening to my mom play her 45lps on a record player (turntable for you youngsters out there). I still remember listening to The Everly Brothers, Elvis Presley, Cristy Lane, or Don Williams, the gentle giant. Country music is not just something the South is raised on. It’s in the air you breathe down here. Not that I think Texas is southern at all (let’s not get into that debate-I’ll win-geographically speaking anyway) but it is country/western at heart. Cowboys, cattle, horses, 10-gallon Stetsons, the Alamo, the Ewings…these are all the lifeblood of this state. To forget we have country roots is blasphemy. So, yes, I know country music. And maybe I should clarify my earlier statement of I am not a big country music fan. I am not a big fan of today’s country music. Give me Jim Reeves, Don Williams, Crystal Gayle, Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Chet Atkins, Minnie Pearl, Buck Owns, Marie Osmond, etc…you know, the Greats. The ones who invented country music and brought it out of the woods and into the light of public notice. That country music I love. One of the first movies I remember seeing with my dad was at the drive-in theater and it was Coal Miner’s Daughter, and I remember the big to-do there was over Sissy Spacek playing Loretta Lynn. And how well she played that part. I even went to elementary school with Mickey Gilley’s nephew, and Gilley’s, as well as Billy Bob’s, are still open in Dallas to this day. There is even a closer country bar called Cowboys that’s only a 15 minute drive south of me. And remember, Leann Rimes? I repeat, country music is the air you breathe here.
This past summer I learned through CJ, a self-admitted Tom Hiddleston fangirl, that Marc Abraham would be making a film called I Saw the Light, a biographic movie about Hank Williams. This was a big deal to CJ because Tom Hiddleston will be playing Hank, and the film was scheduled to be shot in Shreveport, just a few hours from here. I initially had a few reservations about this because Hank was a well-known name when I was growing up, and not just his, but his son’s as well. It was well-known that Junior was a hell-raiser, and I can still remember hearing the grown-ups talk about how his daddy died young and had problems, too. And let me tell you, just because I live in Texas, grew up in the country, live near Dallas (no, I don’t know the Ewings and I’ve never been to Southfork), and have family with some of the thickest country/Texas accents you’ll ever hear, I am probably the least Texas-sounding, Texas-looking native you’ll ever find.And yet, the moment I heard about Tom Hiddleston playing Hank…well…my Texas started showing. Or at least, my country roots. Forget the fact I think he’s kind of cute in that boy-next-door kind of way. Forget that I may have a slight crush on his accent (we won’t bring Richard Armitage into this…completely different subject there). How well would this young Brit be able to pull off Hank Williams? And how the hell do you get a Brit to sound country? Do Brits even listen to country music? What the hell do they know about it besides Dallas the show? Are you seriously telling me a BRITISH man is going to play the King of Country Music? Really? I did keep these things to myself. And, yes, I am aware I just outed myself (about a couple of things here actually) but seriously…this is Hank we’re talking about. Have you seen his grandson? He’s the spitting image of his grandfather! Look: on the right Hank Senior. On the left Hank the third.
And this is who is playing Hank?
Seriously? Okaaaayyyy. But then I remembered that this guy does impressions and so I looked up a few on Youtube. There was one that really stood out, and I seriously could not help but crack up with laughter. I came across this audio of Tom Hiddleston reading Kingdom of Earth by Tennessee Williams. The man’s voice was a dead ringer for Matthew McConaughey, and I laughed until I cried. Bless his heart, I’m sure it wasn’t who he was trying to sound like. What’s worse now is that Matthew did several audio commercials for Reliant Energy, an electric utility company here in Texas, and now I can’t hear those commercials without giggling. (Curse you Youtube!) Still, Matthew McConaughey is no Hank Williams either. But that was the summer and I ended up being faced with other concerns besides what Hollywood might be doing. (Not that I actually pay close attention to that anyway, but sometimes you have to just smack your head at their latest ‘doh’ factor.)
You know how sometimes it seems like the universe is trying to tell you something? In October I went to the library looking for some cds and new books to read, and I came across this display where they feature books and cds of some type of music. October was country music apparently and I started to pass by it when I noticed the ONLY book on the shelf. It was Lovesick Blues. I was immediately reminded of the summer’s conundrum and my Texas got the better of me again. I checked the book out, took it home, and read the introduction. Then I put it down and forgot about it completely until I got the notice it was due back to the library. I renewed it and began reading it in spurts. Then a friend of mine sent me this pic when I was halfway through the book:
It’s in no way a dead ringer for Hank, but it’s not bad. It is, in fact, one of the closest resemblances I’ve seen. If he can pull this off, and pull it off in the South, I will surely eat my words about Brits and country music. (But I can’t help it if my Texas shows up-sorry Tom. We Texas girls are stubborn to the bone.) I haven’t heard him sing yet, so we’ll see. ~wink~
I did enjoy the book. You can tell Mr. Hemphill is a fan with a lot of compassion for Hank. I was really moved by his representation of such a tragic life. I did not know much about Hank except for what I heard growing up. That wasn’t a lot. Kids tend to forget what doesn’t concern them. So, it was in this case. Still, I was surprised by how much Hank accomplished in such a short time, and with such disasters as he fought against, it was amazing that things didn’t blow up before he ever became known. His death, and most of his life, was such a sad thing. It was truly a train wreck. And the only thought I had at the end of the book was “what a poor man.” I truly wanted to go back in time and just give the man a hug.
Three years after his death, Elvis debuted onto the music scene, and we all know what happened after that. Would Hank have been able to compete against Elvis? We’ll never know. Elvis was a force, and country music took a back seat to popular music. And yet, growing up, I still remember listening to Cold, Cold Heart, Jambalaya, Honky Tonk Blues, Move It On Over, Your Cheatin’ Heart…oh, so many more. Even as a pre-teen I remember his son’s own music: A Country Boy Can Survive, All My Rowdy Friends, Family Tradition. I may not listen to country music very often. Okay, so like, rarely. But every so often I feel the need to connect back to my roots, and Hank will always be one of the ones I pull up. And here’s a little something I wrote this morning while thinking about this post:
What I Learned From Hank
By Jessica Scott
I read a biography about Hank Williams recently.
Such a sad, tragic life, wasted when it had only just begun.
But sometimes, tragedy reveals truths:
Happiness makes us complacent;
It is the storm that defines us.
Hope you have a great Wednesday!
P.S. In case you’re wondering, IMDB has I Saw The Light listed for release sometime in 2015.