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News » Private Eye

Lost Highway

Not-so-fond memories of Hank Jr.



Am I the only person not crying buckets because the University of Utah football team got waxed by Arizona State University down in Tempe on Sept. 22? Well, outside of BYU or Utah State fans, who don’t mind that Utah got some comeuppance, that is. I’m not sad about it because although the Utes got spanked worse than a dirty rug on laundry day, those same Utes didn’t quit. I despise quitters. I’m a realist, though.

And the reality is that Utah was outplayed by ASU worse than Utah outplayed Northern Colorado a few weeks ago. In the context of some recent headline news, it’s like this: The bad news is that about half the Ute team (including most of the offensive line) had their, uhhh, manhood handed to them. The good news is that, according to a study published in Current Biology, castrated men—eunuchs—live longer than noncastrated men. Who said football doesn’t have its rewards?

The Utes face USC next in a game that will be a great tell for what fans can expect for the rest of the season. For those of you who like to wager, who don’t mind making a little laydown with their friendly bookie, here’s an insider tip: Get to your seat a little early, in time to watch the warmups, football drills, calisthenics and the haka. For those not in the know, the haka is the intimidating pre-game, machismo, growling, war dance of the South Pacific islands that has been adopted by many football teams throughout this region, inspired by the rising tide of local talented players of South Pacific heritage. If, during the haka, you hear anything resembling a catfight between Madonna and Lady Gaga, you’ll know that the family jewels lost to the hands of ASU have not grown back. Call your bookie immediately and double down on USC.

For most of 1981, I lived in Chicago, just blocks from what was formerly a Lincoln Park-area landmark, The Great Ace, the former and now long-gone Ace Hardware Store, where Broadway, Clark and Diversey Street intersect. It was in this area—basically Lincoln Park down to Old Town along the lakefront—where the term “yuppie” came into existence. Some dispute that, asserting that the word was first used in New York, but that’s not true. It started in Chicago.

I wouldn’t be served yuppie soul food—strawberries dipped in chocolate with a side of brie cheese and wafers—for another five years after moving back to Utah. Yuppiedom never really caught on here outside of Izod shirts, and the truth is, I never really caught on to yuppiedom, either. Indeed, while I lived among the first yuppies—at $225 per week as an associate editor for the country-music magazine CountryStyle—I was nowhere near being one or living like one. Right in the midst of one of the biggest cultural events of my generation, I was instead found at country-music bars, not fern bars.

As a happy compromise, though, the movie Urban Cowboy had just been released, and even yuppies were taking two-step lessons. There was a handful of really good country-music bars in Chicago and the nearby suburbs, so I never lacked for a good time. Plus, when one does his music genealogy, country music traces right back to the rural blues music of the Deep South—and, often, those Deep South musicians high-tailed it to cities like Chicago at their first opportunity, keeping that music alive while also moving it in new directions. Those same musicologists will note that gospel music has the same origins in blues music. In short order, I learned to love the blues and to even say “Yo” to some of Chicago’s best known blues musicians, like Lonnie Brooks and Buddy Guy.

This isn’t meant to be a history lesson, but do yourself a favor right now and download Bobby Bland’s “Two Steps From the Blues,” my favorite blues song. I only ask that so you might see that gospel, too, has been generous in yielding what became R&B, and country music, and rock & roll, on up to—dare I admit it—rap and hip-hop. It’s all mixed up and all mixed in. Download a Hank Williams Sr. song, too, for comparison—some called him the first white black man, so influenced was he by the music of the South’s black musicians.

Hank died before I was born. I met his son, Hank Williams Jr., though, several times and drank with him on his bus. He used to call me Utah for some reason. For certain, when he was young and still “rowdy,” not a caricature of rowdiness, his was one of the best concerts you could ever see. Playing every instrument and writing his own songs, he spent most of his life living in the shadow of the famous father he could barely remember, but from whom he could never separate.

So, now I wonder why the guy who already lost his ESPN gig for comparing President Obama to Hitler has drifted farther from his core than Luke ever could. He recently let loose again, saying, “We’ve got a Muslim for a president who hates cowboys, hates cowgirls, hates fishing, hates farming, loves gays, and we hate him.” Why is he spittin’ Beech-nut at people who aren’t spitting at him?

I remember him as happy, friendly and gregarious—a good guy. He called his daddy “Daddy.” My fond memories of Hank Jr. aren’t so fond these days. When Hank Sr. had something to say, he made a song out of it. When Hank Jr. does, he makes an anthem. Maybe someday he’ll see the light.

Twitter: @JohnSaltas