Friday, November 14, 2014

Is Hank Junior an Actual Menace?

Hank Williams, Jr. (Bocephus)
Blake Shelton’s massively disingenuous crossover hit Boys 'Round Here, a paean to putative down-home authenticity and refusal to embrace urban influence (larded with hip-hop studio effects), opens with this naked invocation to Hank Williams, Jr.:
Well the boys ’round here
Don’t listen to the Beatles
Run Old Bocephus
Through the jukebox needle
At the honky-tonk
Where they boot stomp
All night
(That’s right)
My dislike for where this half-assed rhyme situates contemporary country music is already well documented. Less obvious, this hymn to yesteryear elevates Bocephus (a nickname Hank Senior bequeathed his son) into a stratosphere occupied mostly by deceased artists like Elvis, Sinatra, and… well… Hank Williams. That is, hearing Hank Junior, or anyway talking about hearing Hank Junior, lets individuals appropriate his legitimacy unto themselves.

Several recent country songs have used Hank Junior, especially his song “A Country Boy Can Survive,” to bespeak down-home genuineness. You’ll know somebody is fer real, according to today’s hit country if somebody knows Bocephus’ lyrics by heart. Admittedly, Young Hank hasn’t had a significant chart hit in over twenty years. But this revival of interest has pushed several singles back into prominence, and raised his interest on sites like Pandora and Spotify.

Some of what’s returned to prominence isn’t pretty.

At work recently, a coworker attached his iPhone to the company stereo and began playing his Hank Junior channel from some web service. Only three songs in, it played “If the South Woulda Won,” a top-ten hit from 1988 praising the Great Lost Cause from the American Civil War. It arguably starts off innocently enough:
If the South woulda won, we woulda had it made
I'd probably run for President of the Southern States
The day Elvis passed away would be our national holiday
If the South woulda won, we woulda had it made
Okay, Bocephus as major world leader might curl some listeners’ toes, and not without good reason. But that’s ordinary folksy boastfulness, nothing to lose sleep over. I got much more worried by the very next line:
I'd make my Supreme Court down in Texas
And we wouldn't have no killers getting off free
If they were proven guilty, then they would swing quickly
Instead of writin' books and smilin' on TV
Hank Junior actually sold this at his concert merch tables for several years

Hank Junior has repeatedly, in his lyrics, complained that killers get off easy. “A Country Boy Can Survive” spotlights a Country Mouse/City Mouse friendship that ended when “a man with a switchblade knife” murdered his friend: “I’d love to spit some beech-nut in that dude’s eye, and shoot him with my old .45.” Similarly, his 1984 non-single “Mr. Lincoln” says of a murderer: “When they caught the man he did 23 months of time; he pled insanity like they do now all the time.”

I’m forced to ask two questions: Who hurt Hank Junior? And: Where did he learn such bullshit about American justice? Despite TV crime drama narratives, insanity pleas are very difficult to sell, and usually result in lifelong involuntary committal. And frontier justice, despite its romantic appeal, always puts “right” in the hands of the most violent. Since that works well in Somalia and the areas controlled by Mexican drug cartels.

That says nothing about one fact regarding the south: slavery. Pro-South historians perform backflips to make the Civil War about anything, anything, other than slavery. But Georgia attorney Loren Collins, a self-proclaimed conservative libertarian, notes that slavery was the only unifying link in Southern secession. Multiple states, particularly South Carolina, cited slavery specifically in their declarations of secession. Jefferson Davis proposed a constitutional amendment making slavery legally unchallengeable.

Young Hank doesn’t mention slavery in his song. He does, however, sing this undying gem:
We'd put Florida on the right track, 'cause we'd take Miami back
And throw all them pushers in the slammer
Hank Junior ain't half the artist his father was
Clearly Bocephus watched Scarface while writing this unlistenable travesty. Take Miami back? From whom? He says “pushers,” but considering the late-Reaganite cultural context, he clearly means Cubans. Remember, this is a guy who said Barack Obama golfing with John Boehner “would be like Hitler playing golf with Benjamin Netanyahu.” Hank Junior’s history of race-baiting is both long, and unsubtle.

My problem isn’t that such bigotry exists. It’s that Bocephus, and others like him, actively market their bigotry to others. Currently, mainstream country avoids racial language, and country acts cut duets with hip-hop stars. They even let the blandly numbing Darius Rucker join the Opry. But stars like Blake Shelton giving Young Hank facetime keep his odious opinions shamefully alive.

1 comment:

  1. Hear, hear, Kevin. In a country with a (half remember) black President, the race baiting has taken on a new venom and the likes of these "artists" only perpetuates it and ups the ante--to the detriment of the country.