The shattering rendition of Hank Williams’ ‘Alone and Forsaken’ on the Haiti benefit broadcast smashes open a door many have looked through for a long time.
With its unflinching despair, Hank Williams’ song, performed by Dave Mathews and Neil Young near the end of the program, seared into the hearts of many, who heard it in conjunction with the Haiti disaster:
We [Am] met in the springtime when blossoms unfold
The pastures were green and the [Em] meadows were [Am] gold
Our love was in flower as summer grew on
Her love like the leaves now has [Em] withered and [Am] gone.
The roses have faded, there’s frost at my door
The birds in the morning don’t [Em] sing any-[Am] more
The grass in the valley is starting to die
And out in the darkness the [Em] whippoorwills [Am] cry.
A-[F] lone and forsaken by [C] fate and by man
Oh, Lord, if You hear me please [Am] hold to my hand
Oh, [Em] please under-[Am] stand.
Oh, where has she gone to, oh, where can she be
She may have forsaken some other like me
She promised to honor, to love and obey
Each vow was a plaything that she threw away.
The darkness is falling, the sky has turned gray
A hound in the distance is starting to bay
I wonder, I wonder – what she’s thinking of
Forsaken, forgotten – without any love.
Nothing in the program with all the superstars, the poets, the singers, the writers, nothing more honestly and graphically caught the utter destruction for both nature and man of an earthquake, hurricane or any other horrible explosion out of the sky or earth.
Of course at one superficial level this is a song of love gone wrong. But what writer would unleash such language to deal only with the up and downs of human relationships?
Notice how incidental, how unimportant the love story is to the main message being driven forward by the power of the imagery piling up line by line. And notice how the first line of the refrain so purposefully brings to mind picture of Christ on the cross and his final words.
The door which opens to all who hear Hank Williams both the voice and the expression as well as the words and mournful melodies, is the realization that these mean more than what they say, they are metaphorical. They tell us as much about Hank Williams gazing into the mysterious abysses and joys of human life on earth as they do into breakups, divorces, marital warfare and reconciliation.
For Hank Williams, who wrote many purely philosophical or religious works such as ‘I Saw The Light’ and recorded many standard southern hymns, ‘Alone and Forsaken’ shows that for him as a writer the male female relationship, while often a central subject, could also exist as something of a coat hanger on which it was possible to hang a more elaborate wardrobe.
‘Hope for Haiti Now’ brought it all back in a few moments, fortunately witnessed by probably 100 million people.