On New Year's Day 1953, Hank Williams—numbed by a deadly combination of whiskey and narcotics—died in the back seat of his Cadillac en route to a performance in Canton, Ohio. He was only twenty nine years old at the time of his death and his passing appeared to bring his rags-to-riches success and destructive lifestyle to an abrupt end. Few figures before or since have cast as long or as broad a shadow over American popular music.
Today, Hank Williams is considered by many to be the greatest singer and songwriter in the history of country music, and it is the combination of his remarkable musical achievements, his tumultuous personal life, and his tragic and still-mysterious demise that make him such a compelling historical figure. As volume demonstrates, Williams's death was the beginning of an equally gripping second act: for more than sixty years, an ever-lengthening parade of journalists, family and friends, musical contemporaries, biographers, historians and scholars, fans, and novelists have attempted to capture in words the man, the artist, and the legend.
The Hank Williams Reader, the first book of its kind devoted to this giant of American music, collects more than sixty of the most compelling, insightful, and historically significant of these writings. The selections cover a broad assortment of themes and perspectives, ranging from heartfelt reminiscences and shocking tabloid exposés to thoughtful meditations and critical essays. Featured authors include Hank Williams, Jr., Bob Dylan, Steve Earle, David Halberstam, Greil Marcus, Rick Bragg, and Lee Smith, to name but a few.
The Hank Williams Reader also features a lengthy interpretive introduction and the most extensive bibliography of Williams-related writings ever published. Over time, writers have sought to explain Williams in a variety of ways, and in tracing these shifting interpretations, this anthology chronicles his cultural transfiguration from star-crossed hillbilly singer to enduring American icon.