A few weeks ago, DZ brought our attention to the terrific keynote speech given by Bruce Springsteen at this year’s South by Southwest festival in Austin, TX this past March, in which he basically spent an hour going over his musical influences. It’s really great. At about the 37 minute-mark, he begins to talk about country music and (one of my heroes) Hank Williams. Says The Boss:
I remember sitting in my little apartment, listening to Hank Williams Greatest Hits over and over. And I was trying to crack his code because at first it just didn’t sound good to me. It just sounded cranky and old-fashioned…with that hard country voice. With that austere instrumentation. But slowly, slowly my ears became accustomed to its beautiful simplicity and its darkness and depth. And Hank Williams went from archival to alive for me before my, before my very eyes. And I lived, I lived on that for awhile in the late ’70s.
One thing it rarely was…it was rarely politically angry, it was rarely politically critical. And I realized that fatalism had a toxic element. If rock ‘n roll was a seven-day weekend, country was Saturday night hell-raising, followed by heavy Sunday coming down. Guilt, guilt, guilt. I [fracked] up, oh my God. But, as the song says, would you take another chance on me? That was country. Country seemed not to question why, it seemed like it was about doing then dying, screwing then crying, boozing then trying. And as Jerry Lee Lewis, the living, breathing personification of both rock and country, said, “I’ve fallen to the bottom and I’m working my way down.”
What country never accounted for was why things happened — I wanted to know why Hank Williams Sr.’s bucket had a hole in it.
Bruce was looking for a political answer to the troubles that ail us in this world. Maybe something from without that mars the goodness within. I would have to say, with deep respect for Bruce and love for his work, that Hank Williams does pinpoint the source of his woes EXACTLY. It comes directly from his heart. His own recidivistic condition and bondage. That explanation never has received a happy hearing. Take a look at some of these Hank Williams lyrics:
You thought she’d care for you and so you acted smart
Go on and break, you crazy heart
You lived on promises I knew would fall apart
Go on and break you crazy heart.
You never would admit you were mistaken
You didn’t even know, the chances you were takin’
I knew you couldn’t win, I told you from the start
Go on and break you crazy heart.
From Our Lord in Mark 7:
“Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” … And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
Hank Williams was steeped enough in the Christian tradition to have heard and understood this portion of Scripture. And he clearly connected it with his own failures and “the hole in his bucket”. So, with all due respect to The Boss, Hank was clear and he got it right.