Monday, 12 December 2016

Oliver: Hank Williams (as Luke the Drifter)/The Fall - Just Waitin'/Just Waiting (1 March 1992)

Listening to these tracks with my wife in the room:

"God, David - that's a bit mournful".

"David, that's awful!  He sounds like that morose guy from the North with one name, what's he called?  Kennedy or something?"

And when I'd picked myself up off the floor, I could see her point on both recordings.  However, I don't agree with her in either case.

Luke the Drifter was a pseudonym that Hank Williams Sr. used when he wanted to record material that was some way removed from the country music that made his name.  Under this guise, he would rework spirituals, gospel music and talking blues songs to produce darker and more reflective pieces of work.  Bob Dylan described the Hank Williams as Luke the Drifter album as a collection of parables and a huge favourite of his.  If the mention of parables worries you, then relax.  Just Waitin' is performed with a lightness of touch and a sureness of feel which makes it seem wonderfully profound.  Like a Deep South Penny Lane, Williams takes us around a cast of characters, who could be dotted all over the world, but because they are all linked by an unfulfilled yearning for things
which are either imminent, but not ready yet, or pipedreams that may never be realised, it feels as though these spinsters, drunks, con-men, prisoners, goodtime girls and cattle all share the same town. But then Williams turns this attitude outwards on people away from this inanimate town, reflecting on how people wait for their opportunity to better their situation either through entering quiz shows or gaining an inheritance.  66 years ago, and he's nailed the entitlement culture that has had us in its vice-like grip for so, so long.

This mixture of subtext and social photography doubtless carried a lot of appeal for Mark E.Smith and The Fall's version of the tune is a charming electric country take.  As ever, Smith makes slight amendments to the lyrics- the cow becomes a gardener, a surfer makes an appearance, there are hares in a hole and flights of fancy about producers, blondes, pies and chips.  Furthermore, Smith makes explicit the sense of futility that many of those who are just waiting in this track feel, with his extemporisations about not being able to stand things anymore.  It sounds slightly incongruous against that chirpy country background, but then again "that morose guy from the North with one name" pulled that trick off time and time again, didn't he?

As soon as The Fall covered this track on their new Code:Selfish album, it was a shoo-in that Peel would play the two versions back to back.  He was excited enough to have a new Fall album to play throughout the 1/3/92 show, but covering the first Hank Williams record that Peel had ever bought, due to the man's ubiquity at the top of Liverpool's Top 3 records, in his childhood, sealed the deal.  A Pre-Pubescent Pick if ever I heard it.

Finally, if you're tempted to buy any Hank Williams, a word of caution to you: if his producers got the mike levels wrong, his voice could be excruciating to listen to.  In the early days of this blog, when I made a doomed attempt to buy every record I chose for selection as well as ones by artists who were referenced either by Peel or the people he played, I bought my own tape of Hank Williams.  Four songs into this compilation, I was wondering if I would make it to the end; each song had annoyed me in different ways.  But then he sang Kaw-Liga, the mike levels were balanced better, and things looked up from there.  So much so, that the exquisite bleakness of The Last Picture Show melts away when Williams plays the film out in the end credits.

Videos courtesy of AlanPaladin (Williams) and Kevin Kriel (The Fall).

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