The deathly pallor, the skeletal stance, the twangy voice, the love of great whiskey and bad women—it's eerie come look at Hank Williams III without see this apparition that his legendary grandfather. Elizabeth Gilbert goes on the roadway with Nashville's prodigal grandson and also witnesses his ascent to stardom and also his descent right into despair.

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I say, "Just speak her mind, Hank-3. Don't let me protect against you."

Me and the nephew of Hank Williams are sitting in part honky-tonk dive in downtown Nashville, listening to part mediocre band churn with some weepy old collection of country-music standards. The grandson of Hank Williams bears the Christian name Shelton Hank Williams, yet he is far better known about these parts as Hank-3, for this reason that's why I call him that. Me and also everyone rather in this bar. Who have all well-known him ~ above sight. Hank-3 is a little hard to miss, mental you. He's the only six-foot-two-inch, 144-pound, twangy-voiced, greatly tattooed, longhaired skeleton walking around Nashville these days that looks exactly like Hank Williams. And you can not hide the face of Hank Williams in this town. It would certainly be choose if Elvis Presley had a dead-ringer grandson who sooner or later tried to walk approximately Memphis without getting any attention. Not a chance. Heads would certainly turn, jaws drop.

Tonight the nephew of Hank Williams is perched top top barstool, balancing top top his bony ass, smoking cigarettes cigarettes together if there were some sort of challenge for it and drinking whiskey just as competitively. And he's bitching around his record label, Curb Records. He's griping about what a difficult time the had acquiring Curb to put also a measly three of his very own songs on his debut album (which is a really impressive and also totally rocking country production called Risin' Outlaw—and the three initial cuts are the very best part of it, thank you an extremely much). Hank-3 seemes to have never heard the tenet about not informing journalists every solitary little thing you think, perform or want, i m sorry is why he's saying, "These civilization at Curb are all fucking assholes. The following album I'm doing, it's every gonna be filled v all my very own songs, or fuck them and also I'll see you in court. Since this is fucking bullshit. They tried to make my album commercial and also radio-friendly, and also that is no what ns am all about, man. And also now the radio doesn't even play mine shit anyhow. So what to be the fucking point?"

Hank-3 is an extremely fidgety v his ponytail tonight. He's an extremely flinchy, really dodgy. It's six o'clock in the evening and also he just woke up. This is a perfectly usual timetable because that his vampiric existence. His stomach death from the flu, an ailment that gets, according to his calculations, "once every five fucking weeks." His complexion? Consumptive. His demeanor? Exhausted. And here's why: Hank-3 has been ~ above the road nonstop for five years now, swilling booze, smoking drugs, reconceiving American nation music, resting on a bus with five other guys and also singing his guts out in low-down bars whereby redneck spend their evenings kicking each other's dumb redneck asses. And now he's dog-tired. Dog-tired and 27 years of age.

The grandson of Hank Williams continues, "I got this brand-new song I just wrote. It's around how lot I dislike the contemporary Nashville establishment. It's dubbed 'I placed the prick in Dixie and the Cunt in Country,' however my brand hates the shit. They'll never let me document it. For this reason fuck them. Fuck lock all. They can all walk fucking crap themselves."

"Yeaaahhhh," that drawls. "I know I should shut my fucking mouth. Mine producers dislike it as soon as I talk in public like this. They keep trying to get me come shut up. Castle tried to send me come media school six fucking times."

Media school?

"Yeaaahhhh…that's wherein all the large Nashville stars walk these days, come learn exactly how to turn questions around and act favor they love the family-values shit and also deflect subjects about drugs and also whoring, however I can't perform that. I can't beat those games. I'll tell girlfriend what, man. I am not a motherfucker that does fucking lunch."

Up onstage the band starts play a song referred to as "I'm for this reason Lonesome I could Cry." This is just one of Hank-3's granddaddy's sweetest and also best tunes, yet Hank-3 doesn't also look up. This is a truly an excellent song in the whole Hank Williams canon. However what we have here tonight, folks, is not perhaps the most motivated rendition of it. The to win is dragging behind the attractive blond singer favor a bum leg. Still, she has a poignant sufficient tremor to her voice to convey the suggest of the song just fine, and here's the point of the song: Life is limitless pain. The bar gets real quiet. The singer's eyes are closed. She sways. Her short denim dress and also red cowboy boots are really sexy. At critical Hank-3 manages a look up at the cute young point onstage, to sing his grandfather's many mournful dirge.

"OK, OK," that mutters under his breath. "You look at great, honey, and also you got a quite voice. Currently go home and also write your very own goddamn songs."

It cannot honestly be claimed that Hank-3 looked precisely like his grand from birth. But that's only due to the fact that newborns are not normally tall, gaunt, pallid individuals with hollowed-out cheekbones and haunted eyes. No, the healthy baby boy that was named Shelton Hank Williams was just a regular-looking infant, chubby and pink. His mama and also his daddy loved infant Shelton really much. Baby Shelton's mama to be a pretty lady with eco-friendly eyes and a face shaped prefer a valentine. She grew up on a farm yard in Jane, Missouri, where, every Saturday night that summer, the totality family provided to sprawl out on the cool hardwood floor the the living room and also listen come the cool Ole Opry comes in live top top the radio all the way from distant Nashville.

Baby Shelton's daddy was a good-looking young male named Hank Williams Jr., who was make the efforts to make a distinctive surname for himself as a country-music star. Although do such distinction was possibly not the most basic thing in this world to attempt if your name taken place to save the indigenous Hank and also Williams.

Because that's who baby Shelton's grandfather was—Hank Williams himself.

The Hillbilly Shakespeare. A tall, gaunt, pallid individual v hollowed-out cheekbones and also haunted eyes, that wrote close to 150 songs prior to murdering himself v alcohol, drugs and sorrow at the period of 29. A dirt-poor, ignorant kid born in 1923 come a dirt-poor, ignorant, drunk dad (who rapidly abandoned him) ~ above a grim chunk the tenant farmland in rural Alabama, Hank Williams to be a most unlikely genius. A disastrous failure in school and too sickly for manual labor (Hank suffered lifelong crippling pain indigenous undiagnosed spina bifida), the son learned how to pat guitar since it was the one thing that came straightforward for him. His teacher was an illiterate black color singer called Tee-Tot, who functioned the streets of Georgiana, Alabama, and who educated Hank in the mournful sound the deep-ass Delta blues. Hank took this sound and also blended it—using the intuition of a natural-born alchemist—with the emotional gospel strains the Baptist hymns and the simple, fiddle-drive dance melody of the dirt-poor, ignorant white people he knew all as well well, thereby inventing modern American country music. Hank Williams wrote every type of country song over there is, and he did it through grace, a purity and also a deceptive simplicity that made his work simply plain much better than the work-related of any country artist that has ever before followed. He wrote drinking songs, cowboy songs, Jesus songs and also Devil songs. He composed dozens upon dozens the meetin', cheatin' and also retreatin' songs. He wrote "Hey, good Lookin'." He created "There's a Tear in my Beer." He wrote "I experienced the Light." He composed songs in ten minutes that were immediately chiseled right into our collective cultural consciousness and haven't budged since.

He ended up being the greatest musical star that his day, yet he additionally fucked up every great break he ever before got: married a woman that drove that insane. Verbally abused his many steadfast audiences. Drove away his dearest friends. Pissed turn off every ecutive that tried to regulate his career. Got fired indigenous the cool Ole Opry for being an alcohol addict lowlife, got beat to pieces in stupid fights, got tossed in stupid jails because that stupid displays of windy drunkenness. He had, as his Nashville publisher, Roy Acuff, put it, "a million-dollar voice and a 10-cent brain." Hank Williams sped toward fatality like Jimmy Dean heading because that that automobile wreck, an on new Year's Eve, 1952, he lastly got wherein he was constantly destined to go. Passed away in the earlier of a Cadillac, ~ above his way to a show, go together up in blankets prefer a afflict victim. Skinny and also wasted (did I mention he was just 29 year old?), his spirit damaged by mean women and melancholy, his body damaged by booze, painkillers and excess, his lonesome heart just quit.

Exact reason of death? Well, you could say: inevitability.

So Hank Williams died, and he left behind that a dazzling musical heritage but also an ambitious young widow and also a fatherless toddler son, who name to be Hank Williams Jr. And this bad kid obtained shoved out on the road at the earliest period by his mother, who put him the end there onstage to make money because that the family, obediently to sing his dead father's songs. Hank Williams Jr. Thrived up starved because that light under the lengthy shadow that his father, a man he has actually referred to together being "something in between God and John Wayne." He worked the lone roadway hard, putting on concerts and also singing photographs because that fans that would say come him, night ~ night, "You're quite good, kid. However you're no as an excellent as her daddy." Then, once he was still just a teenager, the met the pretty farm yard girl through the face shaped favor a valentine. He married her, and also they had actually their very own boy, Shelton Hank Williams. Things were nice for a while, yet then it all went to hell. There to be a quick divorce. Over there there was a disastrous accident, as soon as Hank Williams Jr. Fell off a mountaintop and also had his challenge torn off and had to spend three years in and also out the the hospital, acquiring his head totally rebuilt. Then came his own epic period of drinking, drugs, whoring, pissing turn off the Nashville establishment and also fucking up. The end of which come his incredibly lucrative career as Bocephus, a Dixie-fried, hell-raising southern-rock redneck icon. The critics tended to dislike him, yet he was a large commercial start. And also not much of a father to his little boy.

So that carry us ideal up come Shelton Hank Williams. The most recent Hank. Hank-3. Fatherless child, together per the timeworn Williams family members custom.

Shelton flourished up in Nashville with the dimmest feeling that there to be something special around his name. Knew he had a dead, famous grandfather. Observed his dad on TV every the time, yet rarely in person. Shelton himself had been fully cut off from the happiness of both Hank Williamses. The mama v the valentine-shaped face raised her son as finest she could, every by herself and also on a retail save clerk's salary. She was a great Christian woman that loved her boy. Yet here's what young Shelton loved: music. And he wasn't into that corny old-timey Nashville shit, either, yet the hardest, scariest music he can find. Even when he was 4 year old, the was currently whaling on his north to Kiss albums. As soon as he obtained older, the music he loved got also harder—Henry Rollins, black color Sabbath, the Sex Pistols, the Misfits. ("If Marilyn Manson was around when i was a kid," Hank-3 says, "I would have listened to that and also my mommy would've shit even an ext bricks.") He obtained kicked the end of a decent personal school because his qualities sucked, and also once the hit the public-school system, he just quit ~ above the whole education and learning thing and started hanging out through the really bad kids. Thrived his hair under to his ass but shaved his head on the sides. Acquired tattoos he chosen to think his mama didn't recognize about. Joined up v some neighborhood punk bands with names favor Bedwetter, Buzkill, Rift. His mama sent out him come Christian camps, whereby they tried to exorcise the evil one from him. They tried to scared him by telling him exactly how listening come this satanic music would doom his spirit to burn in hell because that eternity. Shelton believed every critical word of it, but that only made him much more attracted to the angry music because he want to be scared.

All the while, though, there was this physical change coming end his whole being. His mama began to an alert it as soon as Shelton Hank Williams was around 12 year old. He gained real high on her every one of a sudden. Starvation-skinny. And also there to be something around the huge Adam's apple farming out of his lengthy throat, something about the limitless thin line of a mouth, the arresting cheekbones, the tragic and cavernous eyes. He was starting to look similar to his grandfather, and—believe girlfriend me—this is no kind of look because that any tiny kid come have. Shelton appeared to be morphing back in time, reaching back in some shed genetic history book because that his identity. And odd, too, that despite all his fascination because that satanic music, the was always nagging his mommy to tell the stories about Hank Williams Sr. And also his mama tried come oblige, however there was only so much she it s her knew. The male was a legend, she called Shelton, and also so you'll always hear legend stories around his legendary talent, his legendary drinking, his legendary downfall. If you desire to truly understand the guy though, Shelton's mama said, make sure you seek out the people who in reality knew the personally. Questioning them what he was like.

And so, when Shelton hank Williams to be 15 years old—an angry, sensitive, scrawny, fatherless boy v a bony body and eardrums numbed through the unremitting screams that thrash punk music—he decided he wanted to satisfy Minnie Pearl. He'd hear the Minnie Pearl was one of his grandfather's ideal friends in the Nashville music scene of the 1950s, and he wanted to know who exactly his grand was together a person. Therefore he dubbed up Minnie Pearl, and she said, sure, she'd satisfy him at her Methodist church in Nashville. His mama drive him end there on the appointed day. Shelton stepped out of the car. He to be an pure calamity that a teenager, dressed in some aggressive heavy-metal concert T-shirt, v long and also dirty hair and a dope smoker's bloodshot eyes. Minnie Pearl walked end to greet him. She to be an old, sweet-faced lady, wearing a prim gingham dress and also one the her famed Hee Haw hats v the dangling price tag. She took one nearby look in ~ this kid and also went distinguishable pale. And also it wasn't since of the way he to be dressed either.

"Lord, honey," Minnie Pearl stated to Shelton Hank Williams. "You're a ghost."

The manner through which Hank-3 ended up being a country-music artist is together a perfectly classic country-music story (full the dirtbaggery, poverty, woe, booze, out-of-wedlock births and also sheriffs) that it practically feels like a jukebox created it. Destruction this. Shelton Hank Williams hit his at an early stage twenties. And also nobody was ever before less linked to country music that he was. The male was playing in punk bands, living through friends, making about $30 a night off his music, doing all kinds of drugs and screwing every kinds the girls. (Well, one kind.)

He'd remained in trouble with The Law, yet only for "stupid shit" the he doesn't want to discuss since "they clearing my record, and nobody would ever before understand anyhow." yet life to be sweet. Playing on the bill with bands prefer Corrosion that Conformity, negative Religion and Fugazi if doing drugs and also chicks—that was around the breadth the the ambition of the grandson of Hank Williams. ("I never did number on gift a university man," he renders clear.) so one night he was play a punk show, and "here come these two pigs, through a bunch that punk youngsters following behind to view what the crap is up. The cops asking me if I'm Shelton Williams, and also I say, yeah, I'm Shelton Williams. And then they offer me through the fucking papers."

Seems Shelton had appreciated a one-night stand with some girl about three years ago, and also she'd waited until currently to allow him recognize there had been a kid born as a result. Cute tiny boy. Child was 3 year old now, and also the young mother wanted some kid support paid. Not just in the future, but ago into the past. To the track of $24,000. Now, whereby the hell is a punk lowlife prefer Shelton Hank Williams supposed to come up through $24,000?

Clearly it to be time come cash in on the name. There to be nothing to it yet pure mercenary need at first. The strode right into a showbiz manager's office in Nashville and also introduced himself. He basically said, "My name is Hank Williams the third, and also I need to raise some money." He more than likely didn't even have to say every that; his arresting physical resemblance to Hank Williams Sr. Was his real calling card. No problem. The manager promptly sent Hank-3 off to Branson, Missouri—the kitsch-country funding of the world—and gained him one act. Put him in a white hat and a white fit (that nicely covered up the tattoos) together if he were the Ghost that Hank Williams. The act sold out every day, rudimentary as it might have been.

Shelton was barely a etc player at the time, and also he knew practically nothing around the nation genre, therefore he had to learn the old Hank Williams songs as he went. Any kind of educated Nashville audience would have actually hurled him turn off the phase in disgust, however the retirees and Korean battle veterans and also grandmotherly tourist of Branson ("Hell," Hank-3 wasn't some reluctant 8-year-old kid out over there on stage. Below instead was a young guy with a heartily undamaged self-identity, who already had formed a sophisticated (although fully "other") music aesthetic. Shelton Hank Williams, a genuine student of rock and punk, was clearly a person qualified of being moved by music. As such, what else can he do but fall in love with his grandfather's work? It to be inevitable. Since it's not as if they to be making him sing Don Ho tunes up there; these were the songs of Hank Williams, which space (and ns can't imagine anyone in the civilization contradicting me top top this) the ideal songs ever written. Therefore, what occurred to Hank-3 in Branson was no a humiliation; it to be an education.

His supervisors paired that up v a young male named Jason that played stand-up bass and also who, like Shelton, was elevated on difficult rock choose it to be mother's milk. The two of them strapped on your hillbilly spelunking gear and climbed deep, deep down right into a full-out study of the dark and rich caves that old-time nation music.

"What you need to understand," Jason claims today, "is that, also to punks, Hank Williams Sr. Is revered in a manner the is past reproach. He's viewed as a damaged hero. He was an individualist who fought the advertisement Nashville system. He to be a genius who transcended genre, top top the level that a mile Davis or a Robert Johnson. Us were both so green back then, but doing that present in Branson was exactly how we learned come play nation music. Shelton's tribute to Hank an elderly became a real tour de force. The all come so organic to him. He could immediately do what Hank senior could do. I think possibly it's since he's so similarly constructed genetically. He might just sound choose him, yodel prefer him, play guitar favor him with such ease. Or probably he has actually some of Hank's heart in him, i don't know. But he acquired it under fast."

Look, that would have actually been sufficient just to have actually been a good impersonator. What a gimmick! There's a woman wandering the world right now called Jett Williams, who, after year of ugly lawsuits, has finally been able come prove the she is the illegitimate daughter of Hank Williams Sr. This days Jett Williams travels anywhere the country, to sing the song of the dad she never met, backed by a band that has featured members the the Drifting Cowboys, Hank's initial band. And also it's a great living, even if its no the many original or dynamic act in the world. (Here's Hank-3's critique that Jett Williams, as delivered with his usual gentle decorum: "She's fucking bullshit. She's not also a real musician. I'm sorry, however if you're 50 years old and also you can't sing a fucking note and you got something come say around your life or her family, climate go write a fucking book, but get turn off the fucking stage.") OK, point taken. However the fact is the Hank-3 might have excellent this act just as easily, or even more easily, 보다 Jett Williams. If every he was really after to be the quick money, then he can have determined to be the Ghost of Hank Williams forever, attract the white suit and also singing the old songs and also cashing check at the first National bank of Branson till the end of time.

Instead, this.

Shelton Hank Williams took on the mantle of nation music together if it were the organic inheritance fate had always had in mind because that him. He began writing his own nation songs. He wrote drinking songs, train songs, jail songs, mama songs, honky-tonk songs, Jesus songs and Devil songs. He created meetin', cheatin' and also retreatin' songs. It come so easy to him, this songwriting. And also what tiny about it didn't come easy, that studied through a deliberation and a emphasis that damn near made a college guy out of him after all.

He take it one rapid look roughly Nashville and also recognized there was nothing being videotaped in Music Square this days precious listening to for an ext than 3 minutes. What the hell room you supposed to do of modern-day country music, anyhow, once the greatest star of the job is that abs-of-steel spokesmodel Shania Twain? The entirety commercial pop-crossover sanitized an equipment of Nashville do Hank-3 instinctively barf. Therefore he officially named his grandfather as the facility of his musical universe and also then collection out to explore the grizzled stellar bodies the orbit Hank Williams Sr.: Johnny Cash, Merle haggard, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Buck Owens, George Jones, Wayne Hancock. That immersed self in every one of it. And also then this boy of punk rock took his researches on the road, perfecting his country style together he took on a punishing and also apparently everlasting tour schedule, play every venue there is—small towns, punk clubs, honky-tonk bars, redneck joints, ar fairs and also even the grand Ole Opry. He played every weekend and also four nights a main for 5 years, building up his fan base and also honing his very own musical style.

Furthermore, as part of his maintain to it is in a standard country-music star, he started living the standard country-music-star lifestyle, big-time. First thing that did to be deliberately step up the drinking. "I never drank at all hardly prior to I started playing country music," the explains. "I simply smoked a ton that pot and did drugs through my punk friends. However when I started playing country, ns just had actually to end up being fucking drunk. Simply so I can understand the music, friend know? simply so I might understand every the other old fucking drunks."

He likewise left his girlfriend of seven years, not because he didn't love she but due to the fact that he wanted to endure "that kind of pain, therefore I might have something vto create about." He was miserable without her, exactly as planned, and got a whole heap of songs the end of it. He moved his human body to the leaf of collapse v hooch, drugs, insane hours, shit food and also every various other manner that abuse. It obtained so negative that once his girlfriend staged one intervention, Hank-3's father and also his father's good buddy Waylon Jennings (speaking that old fucking drunks) verified up, deeply concerned. And also that's saying something, folks, since Hank Williams Jr. Had actually not exactly been playing the duty of doting parents thus far in the kid's life. Still, even the old man acquired worried and stuck Hank-3 right into rehab in California. Hank-3 delighted in rehab immensely, in that he met "some yes, really cool motherfuckers in there," yet he gained fed up with the program and walked the end on day. Walked out and informed the adorably concerned Bocephus and Waylon Jennings the he had actually no on purpose of return to rehab because that years yet, if ever.

"You guys just gotta provide me time come max out," he told them. "I'm simply doing the exact same thing girlfriend fuckers did."

Wretched, lonely, broke, drunk, physically depleted—it was every coming together for Hank-3. And also then, simply to make points even more country-music perfect, that actually had actually to offer of his pickup truck in order to salary his bills. And also then his dog up and also died on him one day. Appropriate there in prior of his an extremely own eyes. The kindly gods of Nashville to be obviously smiling down on him.

And, mine God, were civilization ever ready for him. Through the relax of that rocking debut album, Hank-3 came to be a critics' beloved darling overnight. They love his really hillbilly sensibility and also his hard-core, boss lyrics. (I been roughed-up, beat up, I've to be cut, I gained a tattoo in ~ a soft age….) The critics, full of nostalgia for his grandfather (and full of wake up over years of his father's lowest-common-denominator are-you-ready-for-some-football music shenanigans), tripped end their very own tongues trying come articulate their praise. They said that Hank-3 had actually "the songwriting an abilities and life appeal the his forebears," that he was "goose-bumpy good," the his songs said Hank Sr.'s "emotional ache and also longing, and they execute it over a most refined feeling of melody," the "talent skips a generation."

It all may sound hyperbolic, but truly, the album swings. And also as for the live act? There's nothing favor it. Since Hank-3 has never left his punk roots behind him. Sometimes if the atmosphere is right, that plays on collection of his extraordinarily an excellent country music and then he graciously warns all the older persons in the crowd the they might want to gain the hell out prior to it gets also loud and also then that kicks into a hard, upset thrash-metal punk set. The heat dancing stop abruptly, and also the mosh pit forms, and also the night turns really surreal indeed. Hank-3 and his band are equally comfortable in both layouts of music. And the crazy thing is, they don't even readjust their instruments when they adjust their form. The an extremely same stand-up bass, fiddle, guitar and drum that created a smooth, really Texas honky-tonk sound one minute transform into a strict rendered, pounding buzz witnessed of screaming fury the next. Hard to even know what to call this transformation. I've heard it described as punkabilly, psychobilly, hillbilly, cow punk…. It kind of defies description.

It's other that only Shelton Hank Williams deserve to do. And it's type of unbelievably great.

The way he lives? oh boy.

Hank-3 offers as his attend to this ramshackle old house outside Nashville that he shares with a bunch of various other people. Hard to tell that really lives in this house and who's just dropping through this house for the night to market pot or eat pizza or have sex with someone who actually walk live in the house. Hank-3 self is hardly ever before home, due to the fact that he basically resides on his tourism bus. Yet he does have actually a bedroom here, i m sorry looks prefer the bedroom that a disgruntled teenager—all posters and porn and filthy laundry. He's "home" best now, for what that's worth. He's had three days turn off from his tour, although he hasn't appreciated it much, due to the fact that he's been puking in agony indigenous the flu the whole time. Hank-3's tour bus is parking in the front garden of the house at the moment, relaxing in the uncut grass between the crickets and fireflies, waiting for him. The band members are progressively gathering in ~ Hank-3's house, progressively rejoining after your time off. They're all showered and rested, because that now and also for once. The plan is to leave around midnight because that the fourteen-house drive to Texas and the next leg the this countless Hank Williams III tour.

As because that Hank-3 himself, he's in his shanky bedroom, hidden behind a closeup of the door door, deep in a business meeting through his entertainment lawyer. Hank-3's to chat lawyer is an intelligent young woman called Elizabeth Gregory, that might appear to have the toughest customer in every one of Nashville. (Consider this typically discreet Hank-3 nugget the wisdom: "I have the respect of all the players and old hands, however not the lawyers and businessmen, and also that's fine. I give them the finger, and also that's precisely what lock need—more world giving castle the finger.") So, yes, he's a bit of a pains in the hole, what with his knee-jerk, punk-rock, white-trash distrust of anything corporate and also his reactionary refuse to identify that anybody who holds a actual job could ever possibly hold a genuine opinion. And that go tire the end Elizabeth Gregory and make her lawyering nice hard. But she faces Hank-3 nonetheless, for 2 reasons. An initial of all, she adores him. She adores him because that the same reason everyone that works with Hank-3 ultimately adores him: due to the fact that he's such a funny strange, renegade yet oddly tenderhearted character. He's together a delicate doofus, under his fuck-this, fuck-that exterior. Really sweet and polite, in his way—"always jumping increase to gain the door because that you or provide you his seat," states his best friend, Jason. Through that physical frailty around him (his body has actually no an ext meat ~ above it than a damaged umbrella) and with that face (the baby-soft skin looks as if it's never ever been shaved, however the eyes are famished), the begs to it is in cared for.

Hank-3's grand inspired this same kind the affection in people, using that exact same trick of appeal helplessness covert under outrageously bad behavior. Anyone who worked with Hank Williams Sr. Adored him, too, even when he remained in full-out fuckup form. ("I to be trying come be your friend 'cause I understand you require a friend," wrote Fred Rose, Hank's famously steadfast manager, in a heartbreaking 1948 letter come the nose-diving hillbilly genius. "The guys that room drinking with you space not your friends, they similar to the whiskey girlfriend buy and when you operation out of money enough to buy lock whiskey they will leave you all by yourself and tell anyone you are a drunk…. Don't obtain the idea I'm trying to bawl girlfriend out because I'm simply trying to check out you become what I understand you deserve to become.")

And the brings us to the second reason Hank-3's entertain lawyer, the very intelligent Elizabeth Gregory, eventually sticks around: because she's just trying to see him end up being what she to know he deserve to become. Since she wake up to think he's a genius.

"I think we're all sort of fear to speak what we think he could become," Elizabeth tells me later that evening, as soon as Hank-3 has holed increase in his room every alone to smoke pot and also pack up his apparel for the ride to Texas. "He's do music here that merely does not sound prefer anything rather anyone has ever before done. It's not only that that plays punk and also country separately; he's starting to combine them much more and an ext into something completely new. That's what his next album will certainly be every about. Think around it—a hard-rock sound with that twangy country voice that his? It's incredible. My secret belief is that he's capable of becoming an additional American icon, someone who magnetism is so powerful and who individual musical style is for this reason immune come the fads that time that he can endure forever. I think the could become a legend."

Legend, of course, is not a indigenous to it is in tossed about like some cheap Frisbee. Although it is tempting come imagine legendary status for Hank-3, because he damn sure has the pedigree for it. And also then there's what Merle Kilgore said. Merle Kilgore is a well known songwriter and also Nashville legend in his very own right. The traveled through Hank Williams Sr. Back in the 1950s, and he's handled the career of Hank Williams Jr. For decades now.

"What do I think that Hank Williams III?" says Merle. "I think he's very talented, and also I think he'll make it big. If the doesn't die."

Yeah, well. He's gained the pedigree for the too.

Living top top a tourism bus is favor living in a submarine. Smells choose it, feels like it. A compact, airtight steel confine, rocking tenderness in the deep currents of travel. Each man in the band has actually his own coffin-size berth on the bus through a curtain for privacy and a wee reading light to do it feel all homey. The front of the bus is a typical living space, whereby the men sit and drink beer and also tell stories. The back of the bus is a dark small caboose the a room, and that's whereby Shelton Hank Williams lives. The spends his life ago there, working on brand-new songs and also listening to tapes of previous shows come puzzle out improvements. He's obtained a great stereo system in this tiny room, together with guitars and a TV and also a VCR and bottles the whiskey and tons the pot. It's no that I want to harp on the pot, yet it is for sure amazing how much pot this man smokes. The smokes joints the method chain-smokers acting cigarettes—one after another after another—and the chain-smokes cigarettes too. Ns honestly don't know where he find all the time for the all.

The bus leaves Nashville because that Terrell, Texas, around one o'clock in the morning, which is just the start of a new day for Hank-3. As soon as we're on the road, i hang out earlier there in his room through him because that a an excellent long while. We drink some whiskey together. And also I don't generally indulge, however we smoke a totality lot the pot together, too. (What the hell, i figure. When in Nashville…) Also, I'm hoping if I acquire plenty doped up, it'll aid me shake off the chilly edginess i still have about this guy. After 2 days that being roughly Hank-3. I'm still can not to get over the emotion that I'm in the room with a phantasm. That hungry face, that skeletal form, that twangy Depression-era country voice with so lot drawl in it the it sounds favor he's pulling taffy with every word, that pallor, the weariness, that undertone that melancholy—it's every so Hank Williams.

It's a personal curse that Shelton Hank Williams that he has tendency to freak world out like this. He to be booked once to beat on Late Night through Conan O'Brien, and also during the sound check he lit right into an old Hank an elderly song to heat up. Among the guys from Conan's road-weary crew simply lost his shit as soon as he heard that voice and also saw the face. This big, strong man came up to Hank-3's manager, all shaken and also pale, rolling increase his sleeves to show off his goose bumps.

In the earlier of his bus, Hank-3 is fidgety together ever. He's still complaining of stomach cramps, and his sinuses room bothering the from the adjust in climate, and also he keeps trying come arrange his body comfortably roughly his brittle, yard-long femurs. The puts in a CD of one of his heroes—a mournfully hillbilly freak named Hasil Adkins who plays the rawest, most haunted music I've ever before heard external the Mississippi Delta. If Hasil Adkins moans, wrestles v the Devil and howls at Jesus, Hank-3 explains how he loves the male "for outdrinking, outfucking, outfighting anyone and also for being a total white-trash alcoholic motherfucker that dedicates his music come every state jail he's ever before been in."

Here's what's on Hank-3's mental tonight—music, God, death and his ancestors. Hank-3 tries to describe how much he requirements both kinds of music the plays; the punk come exorcise his rage, the country to bring him some type of sad peace. He speak me around how the doesn't very own anything the his grandfather's other than one necktie, which he made the curators that a museum at the cool Ole Opry provide him after a show: "I was like, 'Come on! girlfriend all acquired a whole shitload the hank's ingredient here, and the men is mine fucking grandfather, and also I got nothing!'" and then, God. Hank-3 absolutely has some points to say around God tonight. First of all, around how fully he trust in every one of it—in Jesus, in the dark pressures of evil, in the fact of possession, in heaven and also hell. "I understand I'm a sinner," he says. "Look at me. Ns drink. I carry out drugs. I don't know my own son. I cuss every the fucking time. I live wild and free and reckless, yet that's the price you need to pay for rock. I just hope I'll live come 60, and also then I'll revolve to the Lord and also say, 'I'm ready for you now. I gained all the time in the human being to begin making it up to you now.'"

(For an example of just how just together a setup can work-related successfully and also on this precise time frame, see: Johnny cash. For an instance of how it can backfire horribly, see: Hank Williams Sr.)

Hank-3 talks around the elderly civilization who pertained to his mirrors sometimes just to touch the or to deliver him message from his grand that they insurance claim have pertained to them in dreams. A many times, the says, they bring warnings indigenous Hank Sr. To take it it straightforward on the drinking and also the drugs. But Hank-3 talks around his very own drinking and also his drug use through a resigned absence of concern. "If you're ~ above the road, that's the price you need to pay," he says. "Just subtract fifteen years from your life and also fucking resolve it." and also anyhow, the says, he's obtained it under control. He loves his life and doesn't want to die, and he's careful not to mix various drugs together, and also he's never missed a show due to the fact that he was too fucked-up to play. Of course, it damages him to recognize that his mommy isn't "too happy right now" v him, what v the problem abuse and also all the life shit he says in public, but that's the reality of gift a absent star's mom. Certainly, he muses, "Marilyn Manson's mom must go v the very same thing." ns tell Hank-3 this is the very first time I have actually ever thought about the principle "Marilyn Manson's mom," and also he sighs and also says, "Yeaaahhhh…well, everybody's gained one."

But it's no true that his mommy isn't also happy with him. Gwen Williams is proud the Shelton. Loves him immensely. Still see him together a sweet and fun boy. She's just worried. She trust "there's a gift that runs with this family, but abuse is always there, too. It's nearly like a destiny through these men."

What really provides her angry, though, is the means the human being seems to desire to press her vulnerable young son into that damaging lifestyle. There's together an alluring symmetry to the idea of Hank-3's being together self-destructive as Hank-1 and also Hank-2 that human being actually try to encourage it. At every Hank Williams III show, there's no end of people lining as much as buy him shots the whiskey as he performs. Lock all want to take part in this dynastic downfall. As soon as he slams back the shots, the crowd cheers and Hank-3 always says grimly, "Thank you, everyone. Thank you because that applauding mine addiction."

As the bus roll on, Hank-3 sets come talking around his dad. I point out that Hank Jr. Wouldn't it is in interviewed because that this story, and Hank-3 says, yeah, well, what have the right to you expect? Typical. The admits he obtained a shitty transaction from Hank Jr. As a kid. Yeah, he was the dumped son. Yeah, that barely to know the male at all. The remembers visiting v his dad as soon as when Bocephus was on tour, back when Shelton wasn't an ext than 11 years old. The wildness and also thrill and terror the it. All those drugs and also women everywhere. Roadies supplied to give Shelton "finger sips" of their drinks—letting the dip his little fingers in your bourbon and lick the off. They'd leave him in a room with a half-dressed woman and tell she to "let the kid have actually some fun." that remembers one more time, as soon as arrangements were made for him to accomplish his dad at part airport for a short once-a-year rendezvous and "I do my mom stop come buy me a cowboy hat so he would be proud that me, and also just the one prevent made united state ten minute late. Therefore he was already gone by the time I verified up. And then i was left to cry every day about it." the remembers asking his dad because that a new material possession just once—a new drum set. Hank Jr. Said, "Geez, son, ns don't know. The sounds pretty expensive." and also this, Shelton says, "from a man who was making $80,000 a night in concessions alone!"

All the which provides it also stranger that the place Shelton Hank Williams constantly takes through his father in the finish is that of protective linebacker.

Conceding his own sadness at not having a dad to speak of, he then steps up to protect Hank Jr.'s character. ("Think that how tough it was for that to prosper up under the shadow!") the defends Hank Jr.'s music. ("He can play every tool on that stage, and also he's a good performer.") He even defends Hank Jr.'s decision to cut baby Shelton out of his existence. ("How might he know just how to law me? the never had actually a father. And with me gift the kid of the divorce, he's always bound to have actually some resentment around me.")

Such a weird, forgiveness stance. However if you take it a closer look in ~ Hank Jr., you'll view that the is the person below most in need of a sympathetic perspective. Consider the challenge of his situation. He spends his life struggling to produce a self-identity in country music in spite of having a father who discography is the an extremely King James scriptures of nation music. He ultimately gets out from under his daddy's firm ignorance by coming to be his very own musician. OK, for this reason he's no Hillbilly Shakespeare, however he is the crown prince of beer-swilling redneck anthems and he is his own man at last. However no sooner does Hank Jr. Get himself every commercially successful and also separated indigenous the original symbol than this abandoned son of his reflects up top top the music scene, looking and sounding just like the old man, and also creates a phenomenally great debut album. And also every major music doubter in the nation suddenly start saying, "Look choose talent skips a generation." What an unexpected blow. What a devilish double-whammy ego slam. You're pretty great boy. However you're no as an excellent as her daddy.

Oh, and also by the way—you're not as great as your son, either.

And what a psychic earthquake this must produce for Hank-3, too! To be killing turn off his father also as that resurrects his grandfather? It's all as well much. It's no wonder the young drinks.

OK, currently I really am stoned.

The tiny back room that this bus is blue through smoke, and so is my brain. So now I'm ultimately in a place where I deserve to dare come ask Shelton Hank Williams the awkward however essential question I've to be mulling over due to the fact that I an initial heard him singing dolefully and beautifully.

"Listen," i say. "Forgive me for asking, an I'm not sure just how to bring this up. But are you the ghost the Hank Williams? do you ever wonder that? carry out you ever before wonder if you can be…um…him?"

He doesn't answer at first. The road rolls by listed below us. Hasil Adkins wrestles with the adversary in the background of ours silence.

I say, "Just speak your mind, Hank-3. Don't allow me stop you." he cranks his thin neck around and looks up at the ceiling. The says, "I don't know. I might be. Maybe. I certainly feel him through me sometimes, as soon as I'm writing nation songs and everything is walking good. I deserve to feel the there, in ~ least."

"And what does the feel like?"

The grandson of Hank Williams smiles his tired, old smile and says…



A level brown map spot outside Dallas. There's a bar here called Rustlers, whereby Hank Williams III is booked to play tonight. It's among those huge-ass Texas productions the a bar, v a dance floor as huge as any kind of pasture. There's weather brewing. Tornado clouds. Hank-3's fiddler says, "I gained a negative feeling around this. Texas dance hall? Low-pressure system building? i bet we view at least 4 brawls tonight."

By 7 P.M. Shelton Hank Williams has actually not woken up yet. Fanbelt, the bus driver, says, "He won't gain up till ten minutes prior to the show. Never does. The young doesn't hardly ever see daylight."

By 8 P.M. Over there is noise coming from Hank-3's tiny room in ~ the ago of the bus. Hard, according to punk music is playing. Ns hear a cable of muffled yodels. He's warming up back there.

At 8:30 the owner of the dance room walks bowleggedly out across the parking lot come the bus. The knocks ~ above the door and asks if the can meet Hank Williams III in person. Hank-3 emerges from his back room in ~ last, looking choose he's limping out of a hospital ~ a lengthy stay. The owner the the dance room welcomes him come Terrell, Texas. Hank-3 graciously many thanks him for the welcome. The owner asks if hank-3 wouldn't mind signing this old record album he's obtained of Hank Williams songs, and also Hank-3 graciously obliges. And then the owner of the dance room busts soon a substantial grin and also pulls out a nice, big bottle that Jack Daniel's.

"And this here's a small present for you," that says. "Hell, you can't an extremely well sing choose your granddaddy without acquiring all liquored up, now, can you?"

"No, ns guess not, says Hank-3, and he graciously many thanks the dance-hall owner because that the kind and thoughtful gift.

The bar is full of rawboned nation people. The men have faces like saddle leather, and also the women room wearing your once-a-week makeup. There room a the majority of elderly civilization here tonight. One old male tells me he's come out on a rarely public appearance due to the fact that "country music is all around a story to tell, about the good and bad of life. The actual times. Telling those stories is what do Hank Williams Sr. So good. I hear this boy does the exact same kind of thing as his granddaddy, and I expect to find it's true."

I asking the old man if he's heard the Hank-3 likewise sings difficult punk music, and also and the shakes his head and also says, "Well, shit-damn!"

Hank-3 comes onstage without any showy moves. He's put on a cool old cowboy shirt and a beat-to-shit cowboy hat. His boots room held along with duct tape. His hair hangs under his earlier in a thin braid, prefer a whip. He simply steps right into the light and also starts singing. The tape is tight together a screw, and also it doesn't take but fifty percent a track for that old male beside me to realize the what he had hoped to uncover true is true. Ghost-white Shelton Hank Williams is to sing in that voice as sharp and chilling as a train whistle. That sings an amazing mix. That sings more of his granddaddy's songs tonight than I could have expected—giving us wonderful versions of "Your Cheatin' Heart" and "Lovesick Blues." He also throws in one of his dad's shit-kicking tunes, "Women I've never Had," to meet that type of fan. He plays a few old Johnny Cash classics, just due to the fact that they rule. It's his own songs, though, that really kill tonight. They are so good. So original and also familiar in ~ the very same time. As the an initial strains begin, you can see people hesitating top top the dance floor. Girlfriend can practically hear lock thinking, What Hank Williams track is that? just how is it I've never heard the Hank Williams track before? They cock their heads and also listen close, and then that dawns on them; They have actually never heard this Hank Williams tune before due to the fact that it's new.

I'm gonna execute some drinkin', Hank-3 wails. I'm gonna drink all the whiskey I can find….

The grateful, rawboned country human being partner up and also spin around and also take a break from your two-stepping only to stare at the young guy on the little stage. Lock look up in ~ him frequently, as thought to inspect their eyesight. As though to relief themselves that what they view is real. They all seem a tiny spooked. However if they need to step outside or to privately kiss on another, they will check out something even more spooky—the pale and boiling storm clouds, which have actually moved so low to planet tonight you'd swear come God they to be trying to touch the really roof of this sprawling Texas dance hall.

Elizabeth Gilbert is a writer-at-large and also the writer of the commemorated lobster-fishing novel Stern men (Houghton Mifflin).

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