Archive for July, 2009

Thanks so much to Tom Baxter for sending a comment in the previous post on Paul Hemphill’s funeral. I’m sure Hemphill  wanted Hank at his funeral and his wishes were followed.

I will repeat the comment from Baxter here for those who didn’t see it below:

I attended Paul’s funeral here in Atlanta. As his friend Angelo Fuster announced it would be, it was a very unconventional affair, beginning with the Hank Williams recording of “I Saw the Light,” and ending with “Lovesick Blues.” The program also included a reading, by four old friends, of the section from “Lovesick Blues” in which he recounted a weeklong trip in 1949 with his trucker father. It’s a great passage and perhaps the best I know on the subject of what Hank Williams’ music meant to working class Southerners in those years.

 Hemphill spent a lifetime as a professional writer. He wrote numerous books of both fiction and non-fiction. Included were ‘The Nashville Sound’ and ‘Lovesick Blues: The Life of Hank Williams’. As I said earlier, he treated country music artists with respect, not ridicule. A book I haven’t read, ‘Leaving Birmingham’ is considered a seminal work on southern culture.

I thought in ‘Lovesick Blues’ Hemphill tried to improve the previously skewered balance between Hank’s personal life and his achievement as an artist toward the artistic side.

The passage mentioned by Baxter above is only matched by Rick Bragg’s wonderful essay in the liner notes of  ‘Hank Williams Live at the Grand Old Opry’.

Thanks once again for the contribution from Tom Baxter.

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I was saddened to hear of the death of Paul Hemphill. His biography of Hank Williams published in 2005, helped revise the standard view of Hank as a man who was  consumed by booze, drugs, and debauchery and nothing else.  Hemphill made a sustained effort to bring more balance to the story of Hank Williams, in his book ‘Lovesick Blues, The Life of Hank Williams’.

The biography did not focus on revealing a lot of new sensational stories about Hank, although there are some, instead it focused on creating  a new appreciation for Hank Williams’ achievement as an artist, let’s look at the works of Hank Williams as well as the story.

In his acknowledgements, Hemphill gives special thanks to Don Helms, Marty Stuart, and Tom Robinson.

I liked his great love of the song ‘Your CheatinHeart’. He quotes the lines,

You’ll cry and cry,
And try to sleep,

several times. He seems to think the poetic simplicity, directness, and beauty of Williams’ language in this song, rivals the work of other legendary poets in the history of English writing.

Before his beautifully written and I think ground breaking book on Hank, Hemphill who was born in Birmingham, wrote a landmark book on country music in the early 70’s called ‘The Nashville Sound’. This book also treated country music and its stars  seriously as artists deserving of respect not ridicule. In ‘Lovesick Blues’ Hemphill explores is southern roots, and recalls first hearing Hank Williams on his father’s long distance trucker radio   as a young boy in 1949. 

In all Hemphill wrote nine non fiction books,and four works of fiction. He spent his life as a professional writer working as a newspaper columnist in Atlanta and writing for most of the major US magazines.

He was able to bring a wide range of experience, intelligence, artistic knowledge and sensibility, to the Hank Williams story. He made a valuable contribution to the Hank Williams legacy.

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