Hank Williams: Snapshots from the Lost Highway

By Colin Escott; Kira Florita | Go to book overview

FOREWORD BY RICK BRAGG

When he died on the way to a show on New Year's Day I953, the Yankee newspapers called him a "hillbilly star."

He was declared dead in Oak Hill, West Virginia, but everyone knows he died in the back seat of a big sedan as it rushed along the blacktop, so there is no way to tell, really, where he died, on which mile of asphalt, in which zip code. How long did his spiritless body ride, before the car's driver shook him, to see if he was okay?

It's just one more little thing about him we will never know. We only know he was 29, which is not much life at all, and that he suffered from a back misery so intense that it left him bone white under the stage lights, and that he died in a car somewhere between a snowed-in airport in Knoxville and a coroner's inquest in Oak Hill, and that the greatest country music singer who ever was and probably ever will be passed into history.

A hillbilly star.

It might have been the fact he sang under a cowboy hat, or that he was from Alabama, or it might have been his spelling and pronunciation, that made them call him that. He spelled things the way they sounded, like hillbillies do, and punctuated them with sorrow, love and regret. Like this song, which he wrote for his wife Audrey after she left him.

We met we lived and dear we loved
Then came that fatal day
The love that we felt so dear
Fade far away
To night we both are alone
And heres all that I can say
I love you still and all ways will
But thats the price we have to pay

It was almost like the words poured straight out of his heart and bypassed his head, and for the people in the auditoriums that smelled of floor wax and popcorn, it was like they swirled from the microphone straight through their ears and down, down, deep into their own hearts. Heads didn't have much to do with it. Hillbillies are funny that way.

Now, almost a half-century later, he is brilliant, the music experts say. It's the same music, but the hillbilly star is now pure genius. He is a pioneer, an innovator. I guess there are just a lot more hillbillies now, in high places.

Some people like to go stand by his grave, but I never wanted to do that. That would be admitting that he is finished, that he is gone.

He is not. Hank Williams is merely dead, and that is not at all the same thing.

I am not like those Elvis fans—good people, a lot of them—who won't admit that the King is dead. I wonder, sometimes, if what they really see, when they see him at the Waffle House, the Wal-Mart or the Shriner's Pancake Breakfast, is their own heart. They wish him alive, so strongly.

It's not that way with me and Hank, with a lot of people and Hank. Hank is dead, his body is dust and bones, and he will never again walk up to a microphone, so thin and elegant in his Nashville-tailored Western suits, and sing his heart out.

He is dead, free from the whiskey that wobbled him, free from the pain in his spine and soul, free from the demons that flogged him, free to sleep in ever-lasting peace—unless you believe in the heaven he sometimes sang about.

But gone?

Not as long as there is electricity, or dusty radios, or pawnshop guitars, or people who believe that music is a story, a story about people like them.

Like most people who sing something so true that it makes us cry, or at least makes us smile and tap our toes, he left tracks in the red dirt and black bottomland and Gulf Coast sand, and left pieces of himself in photos and scrawled-out song lyrics and faded posters of shows he performed and some he never showed up to at all. But people still don't know him, really. They have seen only specks and glimmers and slivers, maybe because his life was so short, but more likely because that is about all he lets us see. Even the very old, the ones who were alive when he sang his music at country fairs, who filled auditoriums in Montgomery and Bossier City, know little more than those of us who know his music from hearing our mommas sing his words over dish pans. And we, in turn, know only a little more than the ones who came after us, who heard his words for the first time on gleaming compact discs that have ☞

-13-

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Hank Williams: Snapshots from the Lost Highway
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Hank Williams - Snapshots from the Lost Highway *
  • Contents *
  • Acknowledgments 11
  • Foreword 13
  • Preface 15
  • Introduction 17
  • 1 - I Wish I Had a Dad... 21
  • 2 - The Wap Blues 33
  • 3 - This Ain't No Place for Me 45
  • 4 - The 'Lovesick Blues' Boy: Spring 1948—spring 1949 63
  • 5 - Hilbilly Hits the Jackpot: Nashville, 1949-1951 89
  • 6 - I'm So Tired of It All: January—june 1952 145
  • 7 - Then Came That Fatal Day: June—december 1952 157
  • 8 - The Funeral 175
  • 9 - Aftermath 187
  • Credits 207
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