Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Lovesick Blues: The Life of Hank Williams by Paul Hemphill

Having enjoyed Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone?, a book by Mark Zwonitzer about the Carter Family, and having seen the recent movie Walk the Line about Johnny Cash, I checked out Lovesick Blues: The Life of Hank Williams by Paul Hemphill. I saw it on the Downers Grove Public Library new books display, and thought it might prove entertaining. I was not totally unaware of Hank Williams and his music, remembering that "Hey, Good Looking" was one of my father's favorite songs. I had also enjoyed some of Williams' songs sung by Linda Ronstadt and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Still, I did not know much about the singer/songwriter before I read this book.

I must have been living in a bubble to have grown up in rural Texas and not heard one of country music's most tragic stories. From the poverty of rural Alabama, Hank Williams rose to be one of the top acts on the Grand Ole Opry and sold millions of records across the country. In a few short years, he become a folk hero and then lost it all to alcohol, prescription drugs, divorce, and constant touring. His strange death at age 29 on New Year's Day 1953 is still questioned by his fans.

Hemphill is a lifelong Williams fan. Though Lovesick Blues is filled with sordid details of wild living and betrayal, he is generally sympathetic to Williams. He is less sympathetic to Audrey, William's first wife, about whom most of his songs were written.

I enjoyed reading this fairly small book. Now I need to ILL some CDs.

Hemphill, Paul. Lovesick Blues: The Life of Hank Williams. New York: Viking, 2005. ISBN 0670034142

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