Race on down to your local dry goods store, or haven’t you heard? — Hank Williams has a new record out! The pace has picked up again in the last decade (after an uncommonly dry spell in the 1980s), but thanks to the prescient ingenuity of the folks at MGM, and now the market attentiveness of the folks at Mercury, we can have new Hank records as often as we want ‘em, as indicated by consumer responsiveness. Store operators are strongly encouraged to save register receipt printouts for verification, in the event that Y2K+1 short-circuits SoundScan, and hand tallies are required.…
This one’s not just another clever repackaging in time for holiday gift-giving. The Boys in Corporate were compelled to work many extra hours, as their original plan to title the whole package Hank Unplugged (which phraseology had garnered boffo register receipts for both Clapton and Nirvana) was tripped up by the lads in Research, whose memo to the effect that Hank & band were always acoustic (save steel guitar) was originally dismissed as Needlessly Detail-Oriented and Not Helpful in the Least.
After much pensive thinking and dedicated pencil-gnawing, they settled for an admittedly clunky title which gets the facts (commendably!) right. There are eighteen songs here, the first ten recorded in 1949 as acetates for early-morning (in absentia) broadcast on KWKH in Shreveport during Hank’s tenure on the Louisiana Hayride program. The rest are demo versions of songs recorded at various points over the next three years.
Box score: First half — nine covers, one Hank original. Second half — two covers, six originals. Overall winner: Fred Rose and/or Acuff-Rose publishing, 12 out of 18 total. Best of show: “Alone & Forsaken” (radio acetate), relentlessly grim and profoundly convincing — state agricultural records show that virtually no Louisiana farmland was plowed for the entire day following its broadcast.
Meanwhile, the Boys assuaged their stunted emotions re: homely title with inclusion of several nifty extras:
• Liner notes by esteemed Hank biographer Colin Escott, who can probably do these things in his sleep by now.
• A Southern-writerly essay by William Gay, noted Oxford American contributor and James Michener Award prize-winner; disputes continue over actual authorship of final-paragraph Hollywood-uplift ending, and neither Gay nor the Boys are talking.
• Icono-tastic cover art by famous painter Jon Langford, comparatively austere color scheme (overall sepia), inflicted damage (minimal knife-slashings or floor-skiddings readily apparent), and imagery (no bones sticking out, no projectiles sticking in). Free-floating iconography box score: 5 lightsome (hearts, stars, bird), 2 repining (bottle, skull), 2 uncommitted (musical notes, one up, one down). Overall winner: local tattoo parlor.
And, offsetting the fact that 50 percent of these exact recordings were released just two years ago on The Complete Hank Williams box set, this enhanced CD has several interesting extra-media bits:
• Aural liner notes by Hank III (a succinct “Y’all really make me sick,” followed by slamming door).
• Advanced screensaver program allows consumer to combine own home-recorded digital camera footage to create new video-duet versions of “There’s A Tear In My Beer”. Note: Unresolved legal issues require perpetual use of Hank Jr.’s voice and dancing figure, so only consumer’s head appears in new version (wearing of large hats not recommended).
• Comprehensive audiovisual retrospective of Hank as pitchman, from radio spots for Johnnie Fair Syrup and Hadacol elixir to never-aired Super Bowl commercial for Arby’s featuring Hank dancing chorus-line style with Colonel Sanders and Taco Bell chihuahua; his painful thinness was deemed potentially lawsuit-provoking from actual consumers of fast food, resulting in ad cancellation.
• Excerpts from Joe Eszterhas screenplay which has cyborg-Hank returning to modern Nashville to exact revenge on bluenoses who booted him from Grand Ole Opry stage; finding Ryman Auditorium shuttered and dusty, he crosses the alley to Tootsie’s, only to find it packed with puffy executives from Marietta. Enraged, he embarks on destructive spree down Broadway, leveling Planet Hollywood, Hard Rock Cafe, etc. Unfinished screenplay reportedly has several possible endings, a la Apocalypse Now: in one, Hankborg destroys entire downtown area but halts rampage at the doors of Ernest Tubb’s Record Shop, assuming godhead status among dazed survivors. In another (TERRibly cynical) version, he is subdued with skybox passes to all Titans games.
• Video footage from upcoming TV series pilot, borrowing conceit from ’60s show “My Mother The Car”: Hank’s voice/personality installs itself in NASCAR vehicle driven by up-and-coming singer/driver Pat Green. Projected scripts call for two car-Pat duets per episode; Bocephus sings show’s theme song (“Are you ready for a sitcom?/A singin’ car party…”). Predictably, laughs ensue.
OK, OK — I confess: my computer doesn’t have a working CD-ROM drive, so with respect to the enhanced disc, I have no idea what’s on it. Mea culpa.
Final note to the Boys in Corporate: the various fictitious conceits described herein are my quasi-intellectual property, you bastards — but I’m a reasonable man. Let the bidding begin.