"A compassionate yet clear-eyed" (Washington Post) portrait of country music’s founding father and "Hillbilly King."
Mark Ribowsky’s Hank has been hailed as the "greatest biography yet" (Library Journal, starred review) of the beloved icon. Hank Williams, a frail, flawed man who had become country music’s first real star, instantly morphed into its first tragic martyr when he died in the backseat of a Cadillac at the age of twenty-nine. Six decades later, Ribowsky traces the miraculous rise of this music legend?from the dirt roads of rural Alabama to the now-immortal stage of the Grand Ole Opry, and, finally, to a lonely end on New Year’s Day in 1953. Examining Williams’s chart-topping hits while also re-creating days and nights choked in booze and desperation, Hank uncovers the real man beneath the myths, reintroducing us to an American original whose legacy, like a good night at the honkytonk, promises to carry on and on.
Country singer Hank Williams's story is already so well known that Ribowsky's (Dreams to Remember) entertaining, critical biography reveals no newly uncovered information about him. Nevertheless, Ribowsky is an engaging storyteller, and he tells Williams' story with such verve and humor albeit with some over-the-top phrasing ("he was a dysfunction junction"; "Hank seemed like an afterthought lying carefree in a casket") that Williams and his music come alive. He chronicles Williams's childhood in Alabama; his marriage to Audrey Mae Sheppard Guy, and their miserable but symbiotic relationship; his slow but sure rise to country music stardom on the Grand Ole Opry and WSM radio; his marriage to Billie Jean Eshliman; and his death in the back of his Cadillac on January 1, 1953, at the age of 29. Ribowsky offers cunning readings of Williams's songs: "Mansion on the Hill," he says, reflects a familiar Williams template that is "part croon, part hoedown, and a metaphoric lament of loneliness and the promise of a reward too far." Williams emerges from Ribowsky's powerful biography not only as the author of many familiar country and pop favorites, such as "Hey, Good Lookin' " and "Your Cheatin' Heart," but also as a man whose back pain drove him to drink and pills and whose soul was filled more often with gloom than with light.