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Friday, January 18, 2008

Hank Williams New York Style

I grew up listening to country music, something that as an young adult was a source of embarrassment and not a fact that I relished talking about. There was been a thread of music snobbery regarding country, frequently characterized as hillbilly music and the songs stereotyped as simplistic tales of misery, sadness, loss, alcoholism and infidelity.
Now we have a country renaissance and it is being embraced by academics and music aficionados of all types. And like all things American, it is being marketed, packaged, branded and oversold. Of course, sex sells here too and good looks are becoming a large component of the current wave with performers like Faith Hill, Shania Twain, Tim McGraw, Cowboy Junkies and the Dixie Chicks.
Fortunately there is a good side to all this - when things get overblown some fans start digging into the stable of musicians of the past, leading to a resurgence of interest in many of the seminal artists of the genre. This brings us to Hank Williams, my favorite country musician, who is being hailed as an American icon and one of the most influential songwriters of the twentieth century. PBS ran a documentary on Hank as part of their American Masters series. His premature death at age 29 has contributed to his mythic status. Who would have imagined that in 2008 we would have a celebration of Hank's music at a major concert hall in New York City?
If you can leave any biases or preconceived ideas aside, I think you may find, like many others, that the music of Hank Williams can be quite soulful with beautiful melodies and powerful lyrics. I leave you with the lyrics of my favorite song of his I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry, generally considered his number one hit and has been called the perfect country song. It certainly is one of the saddest:

Hear that lonesome whippoorwill
He sounds too blue to fly.
The midnight train is whining low
I'm so lonesome I could cry.

I've never seen a night so long
When time goes crawling by.
The moon just went behind a cloud
To hide its face and cry.

Did you ever see a robin weep
When leaves begin to die.
That means he's lost the will to live
I'm so lonesome I could cry.

The silence of a falling star
Lights up a purple sky.
And as I wonder where you are
I'm so lonesome I could cry.

About the photo: This concert, held at the Merkin concert Hall at Kaufman Center, was the first in a series of four (as part of the 2008 New York Guitar Festival) entitled Blue Country Heart. Concert number one featured the music of Hank Williams. A number of guitar heavyweights were on hand including GE Smith (former Saturday Night Live bandleader), Jorma Kaukonen (founding member of Jefferson Airplane), Chocolate Genius (Marc Anthony Thompson), Toby Walker and Larry Campbell with the evening hosted by public radio's John Schaefer.

3 comments:

Lucy said...

Poetry is poetry, and beauty is beauty, and people will come to it eventually no matter what the obstacles, sooner or later...

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