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Lovesick Blues: The Life of Hank Williams Hardcover – September 8, 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. This concise, startling biography starts not with its subject, Hank Williams, but with its author sitting in the cab of his father's truck one day in 1949, hearing Williams sing "like a hurt animal." The brief incident immediately binds Hemphill and Williams (1923–1952) together as children of the rural South, united by the places and circumstances from which they came (Hemphill has written four novels and 11 nonfiction works dealing with the blue-collar South). Hemphill shifts from his own childhood to Williams's vagabond youth with scintillating descriptions of Depression-era Alabama. Against this backdrop, Hemphill tells the story of Williams's boyhood, which involved constant movement from town to town, infrequent school attendance and jobs as a shoe-shine boy and street performer. Williams's subsequent rise, from "Singing Kid" novelty to headliner at the Grand Ole Opry, could seem like a cliché, but Hemphill's descriptions of the "places where a chicken-wire fence separated the band from the crowd" lend a gritty reality. This frankness extends to the depiction of Williams's chronic alcoholism, violent marital troubles and lonely, sudden death at age 29. With the end of Williams's life, the book turns back to its author, as an older, wiser Hemphill recounts some of the sorrows of his own life. The connection between author and subject is what makes this book so rewarding.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Hemphill's absorbing traversal of the life of the single greatest figure in country music is something less and something more than a biography. Hemphill traces the life of Hank (ne Hiram) Williams (1923-53) faithfully and factually and labels prominent myths as such, but he doesn't indulge modern biography mavens with sociological detail about Williams' world or with psychological insight about Williams and his family. In so doing, Hemphill discounts the fascination of the Depression era that produced Williams and of the dysfunctionality of his parents' and first wife's behavior, let alone his alcoholism from adolescence on. Compensating this avoidance of the potatoes of most biographies (the facts being the meat) is the book's style, which while hardly high-flown sounds eulogistic. In this respect, the book recalls some of the earliest written lives in European literature--Boccaccio's Life of Dante, for instance--which each intended, without mythologizing, to establish its subject's legend. Despite some poor word choices and hyperbole, this is the finest work of literature about Williams yet written. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Top customer reviews
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This book is suited for the long-time Hank student who already knows the major details of Hank's life and who is searching for more details. It is also a great complement to books such as WSM, The Air Castle of the Sky, The Grand Ole Opry, and Horace Logan's book about the Louisiana Hayride titled Elvis, Hank and Me.
He should be considered the "Godfather of Country
Music" (the only other nominee would be Jimmy
Rodgers). Hank Williams sang for the 'lintheads',
a pejorative applied to the workers of paper mills
in Up Country (northern) South Carolina. (By the way,
if it matters, I am a graduate of the University of
South Carolina.) It's all in his voice, you can feel
the pain. And that's the key, for his compositions
reflect the pain ---and hopelessness--- of the poor
Southern white at the time Hank lived in the 1930s,
40s and early 50s.
This book brings out that painful acculturation,
and we're the better for it. It isn't just the well-
known and famous songs that bring forth the soul of
this Alabamian ("You Win Again"; "Cold, Cold Heart";
"Lovesick Blues"; "Your Cheating Heart" among others),
but other gems ("Faded Love And Winter Roses"; "Alone
And Forsaken"; "My Son Calls Another Man Daddy" come
Williams was a brilliant songwriter with a voice
I call "smooth grit" coupled with the pain of his own
life and that of the times he lived. Country music
came out of those post-Depression years in the South,
and Hank Williams was its greatest chronicler.
That said, it was a good look into the troubled young life of Hank Williams. It is a good primer for the Tom Hiddleston biography movie that will be coming out in 2015.
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