‘I might become the president,
and tell the world I’m heaven sent.
Take up drinking cold iced tea,
quit watching women and TV.’
Hank Williams III
I think perhaps I have given you all the wrong impression of me. I think because of some of the things I write you all take me for an ungentlemanly chauvinist pig. It is true, I put a lot of effort into being a chauvinist pig, but I wouldn’t want people to think that because of this I am not a gentleman. The fact is I am a perfect gentleman. Take for example my offer of a free drink for anyone who bumped into me at the Hank Williams III gig on Saturday. Okay, so the likelihood that anyone who reads this was going was quite small, and no one really knows what I look like, but the offer was sincere. I really would have bought you a pint. And if you had asked for a whiskey I would have been so impressed (and drunk on whiskey myself) that I would have made it a double. If this is not proof enough that I am a man of honour take the fact that at the gig I immediately gave up my seat when two blonde ladies took the last available table and found there was only one chair at it. I stood for the rest of the gig and if I occasionally glanced at their crossed legs, well, that’s my business because it is the same testosterone-laden blood pumping through my veins that causes me to put a lady’s – even a lady I don’t know – comfort before my own that also swivels my head like a fucking wind-vane when I notice a skirt creep above a knee in my periphery. I neither celebrate it nor apologise for it. It is just the way I am, and my duality of character encompasses just about every aspect of my life. Which is exactly the reason I was expecting this Hank III gig to be perfect for me.
When I showed up at Katy’s on Saturday, sans date – since the whole point of country music is lonesomeness – I was soaked and my already Brylcreem slicked hair was plastered to my head like Clark Gable, but without the moustache or manly facial character. Feeling like Kris Kristofferson, I got a whiskey and a beer to warm the frozen feeling that was eating at my soul. Unlike Kris I had to hold my head at a funny angle so my hair wouldn’t drip water into my whiskey and dilute it, like some sort of goddamn fruity cocktail. I sat and pondered my drinking strategy for the night. It was a Saturday so it was imperative I didn’t get drunk and stay out late with the hoopleheads. This sounds easy enough to avoid, until you remember I am a pathetic drunkard at the best of times, and country music makes me drink approximately 1.5 times faster than usual. The effect is only surpassed by watching Mad Men, which fully doubles my rate of consumption, until my I-am-Roger-Sterling fantasy is shattered when I try to order an anatomically correct Real Doll replica of Christina Hendricks and the website tells me the measurements just aren’t realistic. Intelligent Design one, evolutionary biology, nil.
Skip ahead a bit and I’m in the queue talking to a dude with long hair, a Superjoint Ritual t-shirt and a look in his eyes that says the roll up he is smoking isn’t entirely legal. We discuss our differing preferences – mine for Hank’s country stuff, his for the metal songs Hank also plays – until an elderly couple behind us join the conversation. They are very fond of Hank Sr. but readily admit that they have never heard any of his grandson’s music. As I am wondering just how disappointed they will be, I look down the queue and notice many more elderly couples, obviously in the same boat. I decide this is going to be one of more interesting gigs I have been to.
Skip ahead again, since I already bragged about my valiant chair sacrifice. And hell, I’ll go back to past tense, just to further confuse things…
Hank came on promptly, accompanied by drums, steel guitar, fiddle, and a double bass. He even had a bunch of guys with him to play these instruments, which is the sort of high-end professionalism I appreciate. It was just about the most bitchin’ band I had ever seen. They launched into a raucous set of mostly material from the Straight To Hell album, and I sang along to all the songs I knew, pausing only to sip my Jack, which was disappearing at near Mad Men speed. That probably accounts for my comfort being the weird guy standing in the corner belting out songs like a boss. That continued for about an hour and a half, but seemed like much less, which is unusual and is a sign that I was particularly enjoying myself. Then all the band members except Hank and the drummer left the stage. Hank swapped his acoustic for an electric and tuned it down to somewhere between Barry White and Meshuggah, took off his cowboy hat and took out his plaited ponytail. He looked like a goddamn metalhead. Which was appropriate, because he then blasted into some seriously dark sludge metal. I listened patiently for about half an hour and when there was no whiskey left in my glass I turned to go to the bar, but stopped when I saw all the old couples sitting at the back. I don’t know what they made of Hank’s brand of country music – for me it was as fucking awesome as I expected – but their expressions betrayed their confusion as to how the performance had devolved to… this. Then I realised I sympathised with them. The country set had been energetic, with an authentic country sound and a furious punk attitude. And I had gone there thinking that with my love for Slayer and Pantera and Black Label I’d be sure to dig Hank’s metal stuff as well. But I didn’t. The music sounded dull and repetitive and, though I hesitate to use the word, self-indulgent. It seemed that even though I could be a gentleman chauvinist, I couldn’t be a cowboy metalhead. Hank III can, but he is part of country music’s greatest dynasty, so he can do whatever the fuck he wants. So I left early, spurred on by my loathing for Belfast on Saturday nights. I went back to my regular for one last round.
As I drank my last beer of the night I realised I had turned over a new leaf in life. Before I never would have walked out of a show early. I would have felt compelled to see it through to the end. But on Saturday I just decided I didn’t have time to sit through something I didn’t care for. As I reflected on it I didn’t feel at all cheated. I knew Hank was going to play some country and some metal, and it turned out some of it wasn’t for me. That’s fine. And it bears emphasising that as far as country music goes, this was the best live set I have ever seen. As I was thinking, though, it gave me pause to realise that all of the old couples had still been there when I left. Did they stay out of politeness, or because for all of their outward fuddy-duddiness, they were closet badass metalheads? Did I just out-old fart a bunch of old farts? I was going to mount some sort of defence, but as I was writing this I just leaned back, looked down at myself and realised that over 80% of what I am wearing is beige. A new leaf indeed. God fucking damn it.