Thursday, September 3, 2009

Hank

I have a pretty cool job. It's not one I ever imagined, but I kind of like talking to famous and semi-famous people. Most of these people are in fields involving self-expression and an exploration of the human condition. They don't always have to be fully articulate or aware of what it is they're doing, but ultimately, music and art are expressions of our nature.

We tend to move away from being human. We isolate ourselves and use technology, religion and anything else we can lay our hands on to isolate ourselves both from ourselves and each other.

Art is an attempt to reach through the cocoon.

Anyway, Hank Williams, Jr. was one of the guys who reached me. I grew up in a redneck town in Virginia. Most of my friends' parents worked at the Celco plant or were teachers' kids like me. Hunting, fishing and football were big time entertainment --none of which I cared for-- but it was part of my culture and while I listened to every British pop band I could lay my hands on, sampled Heavy Metal and punk the background music of my childhood was country.

Hank Williams, Jr. was a big part of it and despite the fact I didn't care much for football, hunting or fishing, I dug the guy. His music was more rocking and seldom plastic (He had a couple of really shitty songs that were prefabricated shit, but mostly...). He was genuinely funny.

I dug the whole self-reliance as a philosophical point of view, respected his struggle through adversity (the man had his face torn off) and his fight to both honor his father, while desperately trying to get out from under the man's shadow.

To me, he was an outlaw's outlaw. He was an anti-authority figure who went his own way and made it work through diligence, crazy luck and massive talent.

I was a bit shocked when he signed on to play Massey's party, but... you know, corporate events, lots of people do them --I think even U2 has done them and they are the biggest band in the world.

I thought, "Ok, so he signed on for a gig. He's just working." And really, how was this different? Sure, they had some crazies (Ted Nugent and Sean Hannity, an English lord who has it in for Al Gore), but I didn't think Hank was one of them.

So, I took a chance to see if I could talk to him. Hank would not be qualified as the low-hanging fruit. What he said about not doing many interviews is right on the money. He's a millionaire many times over and a respected elder statesman of country music. He is not on the comeback trail.

Anyway, it's usually a pain in the ass to even try to talk to someone of his caliber. Often, it's a runaround leading absolutely nowhere (As with Willie Nelson, lo these last five years). I expected it to end with the offer of a free copy of his latest album and the usual apology, "Sorry, Hank's not doing any interviews right now."

I was OK with that. He had no need to talk and I hadn't listened to the new album yet. I'm at peace with No. I understand it. Artists don't do interviews because it benefits your paper. They don't do them because they like talking to reporters. Sometimes they won't even do them if they benefit ticket sales. Mostly, they do them when they want something: people to come to the show, buy their album, sacrifice virgins, whatever...

Imagine my horror when he said yes. He wanted to talk. I could have ten to fifteen minutes. He'd call me --and they'd get that album in the mail in a couple of days. It wasn't that big of a deal, but it probably wouldn't be there before the interview.

This sent warning alarms off all over the place. The show was already "selling" very well. The need for him to do it was very small. I couldn't see a particular gain, but I wasn't about to back away. I had questions... or really, just one question: Why?

And he told me.

Over the phone, I was nervous. I even apologized for being starstruck, which happens rarely these days --but it was Hank fucking Williams. I barely asked questions. It was a light conversation, where he did most of the talking --and after he parroted conservative bullet points and made some ugly statements (He called Barney Frank a queen, for instance), I was stunned. I could have kept him on the line for another five minutes, but I had nothing left to say, except "Thanks, we're looking forward to having you up this way again."

A better reporter might have stuck it out, maybe tried to tease out the words I suspect he uses privately to describe Obama. I just don't have the heart for that shit.

I got off the phone and just sort of stared at my computer. I felt like I'd been punched. The great anti-hero of my country music youth had become a bitter old man and a oatmeal-brained toady for corporate interests. It's not that I don't fathom his politics, but his politics don't have any foundation other than the bullshit he hears on talk radio. He thought Obama would have lost the last election if not for the electoral college. He thought it was somehow close. Without the electoral college, Al Gore would have run against John McCain in 2004.

So, I poured over my notes and fought with writing the article. I worried about it and lost sleep -stupid, but I had issues. First, the nature of the material was obviously negative. Hank said mean, bad and dumb things. So, it was going to be a negative looking article --if I used his words. Writing negative isn't much fun. I don't really do that kind of work here.

Second, I was writing a negative article about a big entertainment name. I could expect backlash from either Hank's people or his fans. I might get some fun phone calls, some hateful e-mail or a death threat. Such things do happen from time to time. Also, writing the article could affect my ability to work with the publicity company handling Hank. I deal with them several times a year and really, they've been one of the better companies to work with.

Third, I was writing something that did not portray the headliner for Massey Energy's party in a very positive light. The president of the company isn't really known for being particularly forgiving or understanding. He comes off as angry and vindictive. I might be bringing some trouble to my paper, which is like every other smaller paper in America --struggling to keep afloat.

I wrote it anyway; not to be brave, not to score points and not to say, "look what I did to an American treasure." I wrote it because I'd have felt worse if I hadn't.

In happier circumstances, I'd have loved to speak to him, calmly, about whether the booze helped him with the writing or if it was always a hindrance. I'd have liked to ask whether his decision to do only 20 shows a year now has to do with getting old or growing weary of being around so many people so much. I'd have liked to ask whether he was fed up with people in general --and why hunting has grown to take such a prominent place in his mind. Hank's life over the last few decades has seemed like a vast playground. I wonder if he thought that had any effect on his perceptions, if being free from most of the day to day struggles gave him a better or even diluted look at the world. Does he find little tasks around the house to keep him occupied or is every day another day of summer vacation?

Somebody else will have to ask those questions. He won't be talking to the likes of me again. I regret that, but it couldn't be helped.

13 comments:

Buzzardbilly said...

I've read and reread your article on Hank and I thought you did excellent. Even though the Hank you portrayed wasn't the Hank you remembered from your youth (or mine), it is the Hank that he chooses to present today. Facts are facts, and you presented the facts of his quotes (and the way his view of the electoral college and Obama's election doesn't jive with hard facts that fall outside of opinion) in a non-judgmental and honest way.

I think Hank, Jr., is as open about wanting to rattle cages and draw a political line as Hank III is about how crap it was to have Hank, Jr., pretty much ignore him and whether there was money or safety or interaction with his father in his life at all when he was a kid.

One of the things that always made Old Bocephus endearing (even if I didn't always agree with him...and I rarely do now) is that he strikes me as a "warts and all" kinda guy. You had the balls to write what he said and he said the to the press because he likes folks to know he has balls and likes to raise dander.

It was a job well done. FWIW, If you read my blog about the Engvall show that I posted this morning, you'll see that I don't think there are quite as many folks "into" this rally as the numbers being supplied by the organizers would have you believe.

Jay said...

Late to the party, but yeah, you did good. I couldn't have restrained myself from pointing out to him Gore's presidency without the electoral college.

I was working at the airport a few years when he came through after a show at the Civic Center, and that's when I realized he was a dickhead. His pilots absolutely hated him.

The weird part was that everyone around him was laid back and good to meet. Hell, even the guy that had to pull his boots off for him as he sat on the steps of his Leer had a good attitude.

It was that night that I realized that he had more Audrey in him than Hank, Sr., and his campaigning for Palin and the thinly veiled racist radio ads against Obama showed that he had too much Alabama circa 1961 for my tastes.

Growing up I had all his albums and he was part of one of my favorite concerts. The day of my high school commencement Hank, Willie Nelson, and a couple of other bands had a huge concert at Laidley Field. I've been told that it actually kinda shitty, but we had one hell of a good time that night under the plastic sheeting that was spread over those of us on the field in a vain attempt to keep us dry.

Anyhow, a good article about an arrogant prick.

jackie said...

You should go ahead and slam the concert before you even see it...like how you slammed Neko Case on Larry Groce Presents, errr...I mean Mountain Stage, when you didn't even see it.

I'm half tempted to come down there and take your job...just cause I can. Hell, I'll just tell 'em I'll never slam a show without actually seeing it, and surely that'll put me one-up on the person who's supposed to be doing the job now. Right?

primalscreamx said...

Except Jackie, I didn't. I commented on a blog about her performance, based on other accounts, including a few people from the Mountain Stage crew.
It's a far cry from publishing as a legitimate review.

It wouldn't have been. I don't do that.

I didn't say word one about Hank's show. I've never been to his show. I did, however, talk to the man about why he was coming to WV. He came off as an ill-informed and loopy blowhard.

Sort of like you.

You're an asshole, but still one of my heroes, man.

jackie said...

"..an ill-informed and loopy blowhard. Sort of like you."

Jesus Bill, I haven't been so well described since my career counselor in high school called me "the poster boy for job corp".

But anyways...fuck all that. Neko Case rocked it and Larry Groce co-starring Mountain Stage failed....again.

As far as Hank Jr, all the people I know who are going to that show are excited as anything. Hell, I love seeing Social D, but I hate been preached to by Mike Ness about how I should vote. But I know what I'm getting when I buy the tickets...as does everybody who's attending that show.

eclectic guy said...

I just read the Hank article. I cannot understand the whole Hank thing, although I will admit to liking a few of his songs. I always read the redneck between the lines in his music and that's not for me.

You should have hammered him!

Hippie Killer said...

I guess we found the one person who felt like Neko "rocked it."

I guess that one song that she played 3 fucking times was a favorite of yours.

Jackie said...

yeah, this "one person" is a longtime neko fan and i'll say it again...she rocked it.

"pharaohs" is a badass song and i loved hearing it each time she sang it. shit maybe if she woulda sang it one more time bob thompson's jazz piano set would been about 4 minutes shorter...or larry groce and his wife (or sister) woulda sang one less song.

i gotta confess seeing her sing "i wish i was the moon" might have brought a tear to my eye...had i been there with my boyfriend...as you apparently were, killer...heh.

Hippie Killer said...

You sound like those people at the 2008 Republican National Convention who had to pass through 6 metal detectors in 1 hour and still thought they were at a party.

Anyone who thought sitting silent and sober while Neko Case stumbled through the same song 3 times like it was her first gig has a different standard of "rocked it" than...well, than the rest of us.

Chris James said...

I wasn't at the show, so I can't say whether or not Case should've played the same song thrice. That said, I echo Jackie's sentiment about Charleston Stage with Larry Groce. Why does he feel the need to sort-of sing that same damn song all of the time? His skills in obnoxious public radio hosting are surpassed only by Michael Feldman and Terry Gross.

primalscreamx said...

On the upside with Larry, he does listen to suggestions about content. They try to bring in what people want. Not everything... I'm still holding out for The Shins and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and what the fuck... Robbie Williams. Why not?

The Case show, which I did not attend, I heard she may have missed the point that it was a live performance radio show -not a studio show in front of a live audience. I've softened a bit on her. I recall being furious with Case before and after the show. The reason I didn't do the review, actually, was because her management jerked me around for three weeks on an interview, then tossed me a ticket as a kind of passive apology. I didn't go because I was angry. It seemed like a better idea than going in with a chip on my shoulder.

I'd like to hope she comes back and plays again.

Chris James said...

LOL

"This week, Robbie Williams, S Club 7, and The Bob Thompson Unit."

primalscreamx said...

Yeah, that would be a pretty bitchin' show.