I was listening to the radio recently when George Thorogood came on doing his cover of the classic Hank Williams tune Move it on Over [I’m guessing most people didn’t know it was a Hank tune]. I really enjoy his version of the song–vintage rock and roll–but I notice George left out some of the funnier lyrics and listening to the cover made me want to hear Hank’s original. Of all the singer songwriters, there are two that I consider the best ever; Hank Williams and Bob Dylan. What these two men do with words is simply amazing. Not only do they have great melodies, but their lyrics paint vivid pictures (a spin on “a picture paints a thousand words”). In many of their songs, the humor is quite evident, but Hank is the master when it comes to loneliness, sorrow, despair; even injecting humor in extremely sad tunes. His voice inflections mixed with the lyrics can put me in a melancholy mood like no one else. And yet the songs are beautiful.
Besides Move it on Over, there are a number of his songs that include lines that crack me up; like these from Howlin’ at the Moon:
I rode my horse to town today and a gas pump we did pass
I pulled ‘im up and I hollered WHOA!, said fill ‘im up with gas
The man picked up a monkey wrench and WHAM!, he changed my tune
You got me chasin’ Rabbits, spittin’ out teeth and Howlin’ At The Moon.
Hank often wrote about his women trouble (Audrey), which led to his “lonesome” songs, but I find subtle humor in You’re Gonna Change:
You wore out a brand new trunk
Packin’ and un-packin’ your junk
Your daddy’s mad, he’s done got peeved
You’re gonna change or I’m a-gonna leave
Speaking of lonesome songs, of which he had plenty, here’s a line from Long Gone Lonesome Blues that I find to be a perfect picture of despair:
I’m gonna find me a river, one that’s cold as ice
And when I find me that river, Lord I’m gonna pay the price, oh Lord
I’m goin’ down in it three times, but Lord I’m only comin’ up twice
She’s long gone, and now I’m lonesome blue
The last song Hank recorded, not that many months before he died at age 29, was, I’ll Never Get Out of this World Alive. The title is eerie if not prescient, but within the lyrics he still seems to elicit humor with these lines:
These shabby shoes I’m wearin’ all the time
Is full of holes and nails
And brother if I stepped on a worn out dime
I bet a nickel I could tell you if it was heads or tails
What I consider the saddest song ever recorded, and yet hauntingly beautiful, is I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry. When I hear this song, I immediately feel the loneliness I know the author obviously felt when he wrote it. Here are two stanzas:
I’ve never seen a night so long
When time goes crawling by
The moon just went behind the clouds
To hide its face and cry
Did you ever see a robin weep
When leaves begin to die?
Like me, he’s lost the will to live
I’m so lonesome I could cry
I’ve found that many of the most beautiful songs recorded come from a troubled, lonely heart. In this, Hank bared his soul and his lyrics were a reflection of his life. His songs remind us that life is full of not only darkness and hurt, but of laughter and fun. I’m thankful he shared his pain and I’m able to listen to his songs these many years later.
I didn’t write here about Mr. Dylan and maybe I will another day, but if you want a taste of his humor, try this hilarious song, Talkin’ Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre.