By Leslie Criss
“A tongue can accuse or carry bad news; The seeds of distrust it will sow. So unless you have made no mistakes in your life, Be careful of stones that you throw.”
– Hank Williams
“If a song can’t be written in 20 minutes, it ain’t worth writing.”
– Hank Williams
I was nearly 30 before I developed a limited liking for country music. It was a scorching, sultry Southern summer and I had an internship at a newspaper in Carthage.
I learned early on the good folks of Leake County loved their country music. And I’m talking hard-core country, like Patsy, Loretta and Hank.
I took a shine that summer to the music of Kathy Mattea and thought I deserved high praise for being an enlightened country music fan.
My friend JP Watkins quickly put me in my place, pronouncing Mattea’s music was folk at best. “That gal ain’t nothing close to Patsy Cline.”
I’m ashamed to say that as a teenager, I made fun of my Uncle John’s wife who loved Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn and Hank Williams. It was a kind and gentle sort of poking fun. Still and yet, I regret it all these years later.
My friend Rheta Grimsley Johnson has written a new book. It’s a memoir of sorts titled, “Hank Hung the Moon and Warmed Our Cold, Cold Hearts.” She writes a lot about Hank Williams and how his music influenced her life.
In fact, the book offers potent proof of the power played by music in most of our lives.
If you’re not already a reader of Rheta, I’m sorry. As my friend Cheryl said suddenly as I read aloud from the book’s introduction, (and this is paraphrased) “The woman can write.”
Indeed she can. She’s a nationally syndicated columnist whose words have resonated with me for as long as I can remember. The first time I read her in the Mid-South Magazine section of the Sunday Commercial Appeal, I dreamed of writing half as well some day.
Rheta’s written a handful of books, and folks like me hope she’ll keep them coming. Each of her books, as I’ve read them, becomes the best or my favorite.
So, now the Hank book is at the top of my list. As you read, if you listen hard – and believe – you’ll begin to hear a melody, at times a bit melancholy but always magical, playing along as an amazingly appropriate soundtrack.
I’d be hardpressed to pick a preferred phrase or paragraph from any of Rheta’s writings – that list would have no bounds.
But there is a paragraph on page 12 of her prologue to Hank that makes it as crystalline as water – cool, clear water – why Rheta is passionate about the music and the man.
“It would have been nice, really nice, to have had a 30-cent ticket for an unreserved seat on a hard church pew on June 11, 1949, when Hank made his Opry debut and wine from water, when he healed the sick of heart and did encore after encore, singing like he was born to sing. Singing like he didn’t have long to get it all done. A relative few witnessed those miracles: 3,574, to be exact, give or take a few no-show ticket-holders. And the ones who were there, who touched the hem of his garment, belong to a generation fast disappearing.”
As we read the book aloud, my friend Cheryl said, more than once, we ought to be listening to Hank Williams as we read. Problem is, I’ve never owned any Hank music.
Until now. I’ve seen the light.
Better late than never, I’ll be listening to Hank, and maybe even Patsy and Loretta, and learning what I’ve long missed.