As my blogmate Wellington has properly surmised, we’re reaching the point where things begin to quiet in Tuscaloosa for the year until a new year emerges. So in lieu of feeling redundant, let’s dig into some music theory. I’ve thought about the topic of what it means to dislike an artist’s work because of their social life or who they really are as people. I think we can safely call this the Hank Williams Jr. Corollary.
I’m going to just use Hank Jr. as an example because he generally fits the profile of the artist we discover is kind of a dickhead later in life. Hank Jr. speaks of Southern ideals and we just evolve past him in logic over time. But he also might be a freak example because I tend to sour on a person’s music the instant I find out that they’re generally an asshole. I interpret songs through a (probably unfair) new lens that makes me find ways to hate them.
This may even be true for me to Hank Jr. only to a different extent. Much of his music past the era when his first Greatest Hits album was released is kind of awful. The last full record of his that I heard was the I’m One of You record that came out in 2003, around the time Hank Jr. thought to revitalize his career with doing stuff with Kid Rock. It’s a trainwreck of a release, added by the fact that he did a godawful cover of Jerry Reed’s “Amos Moses.” (1) Now do I dislike this solely because it’s a shit record or because I realize Hank Jr. and I are really different people in both what we want musically and in my lack of comparing sitting Presidents to leaders that attempted to exterminate an entire race of people.
I’m going to go rambling and stream-of-consciousness (I kind of hate that term) for a second and wonder about how music nerds attribute meaning to music. I mean, pretentious reviews about the meaning of some dude banging his guitar into his hand exist everywhere, of course. I’m not saying anything new on that front. What I mean is how much does meaning attract you to the music you enjoy. Do we love so much of a Southern lore that we’re willing to let a guy be batshit crazy years afterwards to still place his old works on a pedestal?
Or does it not matter because meaning leaves the artist after he places art to the forefront? This is also pretentious, but I’m getting somewhere here. Remember back in the early 1990s after the suicide of Kurt Cobain how everyone saw “All Apologies” as a bit of a eulogy to Cobain? Remember how people ascribed meaning to “All in all is all we are”? Chuck Klosterman, in an essay in his book Eating The Dinosaur, gets at this much better than I can the idea that Cobain was seen as a wise soul despite the fact that he himself felt some of his work was kind of silly and comedic. He wanted to appeal to the set of people that would find Bobcat Goldthwait opening for Nirvana as hilarious. Instead, most Nirvana fans felt more comfortable pelting Goldthwait in the face with things to get him off the stage.
Back on subject, I saw Hank Williams Jr. when he performed for UA’s homecoming concert in October 2008. Much of the performance had a disturbing amount of Hank proclaiming his love for the McCain/Palin ticket. I felt like the only blue-state fella in a red-state venue. It would be more hilarious if I had my feminist beliefs at this point in time as well. It was still fantastic. I wanted to hear some greatest hits and I was fine with it. If only Hank Jr. was drunk, though, it would be over the top.
I guess some artists I’m willing to give that creative leeway to. Hank Williams Jr. may be my third favorite man with the name of Hank Williams, but I still think he’s a fine tenet of old country. I think the same thing about David Allan Coe to certain extents, even though making racist recordings and making the “But there’s a person in my band married to a black person” argument doesn’t change things. Old country has a lot of scary things that we’re somehow willing to brush aside because it’s tradition. Maybe that’s why things are tough to hate.
1. This is the part where I say that “Amos Moses” is probably one of the greatest recordings of all time, and I’m completely serious here. Jerry Reed, in much the same way “Eastbound and Down” is wonderful banjo-plucked country, understands dark comedy and Louisiana like the back of his hand. I come from a region of the country with a lot of swamps and ghost stories, and the character Amos is lived in those experiences. Every line strikes a new feeling. It’s also damn hilarious. When Reed gives a maniacal laugh after saying, “Wonder where that Louisiana sheriff went to,” it’s well aware of its own darkness.
It’s also not a hard song to get musically. The narrator has to seem like a maniac in telling this story of an illegal alligator hunter who may have let a lawman get eaten by a gator in the swamp. This is why the Primus cover is just as great. This is also why a boring cover doesn’t do well by the song’s original humor and why Jerry Reed was wonderful in the first place. In short, listen to goddamn “Amos Moses” already.