This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
By Michael Bernard Panasuk
If Hank Williams came to Nashville today, would a major record label sign him? “Howdy, my name‘s Hank Williams. I’m a singer and I write a song or two now and then. I‘m looking for a place to record a few of my tunes, can ya hep me?” The receptionist gave Ole Hank a blond stare, and blurted out, “Mister, do I look like I can help you?” Before Hank had a chance to ponder the profundity Of Ms Pushbutton’s witty repartee, line seven rang with a prophetic, pathetic, electronic timbre that jingle jangled the heart strings of both their lonely souls; and Ms Pushbutton commenced to be moved by the impotent impetus, due to the fact she had to keep her boring job long enough to pay off her new, fire engine red Mustang convertible. So she deftly maneuvered her right hand into perfect position and gracefully swooped down to snatch up the phone: “MGM Records, Susan Speaking, How can I help you?” She announced, sounding a lot like the computer she played Cyberspank on at home. Hank made that little devilish laugh of his and thought to himself, “How’s it she can hep somebody on the phone, but she can’t hep somebody standing right in front of her?” Simultaneously, Hank overheard MS Pushbutton say: “I‘m sorry Mr. Shallowmann, he‘s not in his office, I don’t care if you need a new Recording Artist today, tomorrow or ten thousand years from now! Can I put you on hold?” Now Hank had no intention of letting this Golden Opportunity pass him by like so many trucks on a lonesome highway, so he spoke up, “’Scuse me little Missy, did I hear you to say somebody‘s in need of a Recording Artist? Cause ifin you did, Id take it right might kindly, if me, Hank Williams could, if the good Lord‘s willin‘ and the creeks don‘t rise, apply for that there position Ritchie here and now.” When he did that little devilish laugh thing again, Ms Pushbuttons was taken aback yet one more time in her personal quest to prove to the world she could be the next Patsy-Loretta-RebaShania-Whatever, despite her inability to perform even the most insignificant task Any better that an emotionally challenged sub-crustacean symbiotic life form. But as fate would have it, and fate has it often, Hank’s heartfelt plea for artistic employment was mistaken as a dollar sign from God; and the mystical musical mogul, Mr. Shallowmann,
listening from his lofty perch, high above the cacophony paved paths of Music Row, screamed, “Suzie, I don‘t care if you‘re a bitch! Send that guy over here, pronto Tonto, make it snappy Slappy, Cuz I‘m in a hurry Murry, so get it done Hun; while the getting’s good enough to eat: You got it? Good! Now chow mamasita!” He hung up the phone with a cosmic thud that stuck in Ms Pushbutton’s ear like a weevil. “What did you say your name was?” she queried Hank with all the enthusiasm of a one legged table dancer. “It‘s Hank Williams, ma’am. Happy to make your acquaintance.” And he was, even if she didn‘t give a damn. Hank was a man of the people, for the people, by the people- A genuine pre-ramble to the very constitution of these United States Of America, or anywhere else the original Lovesick Blues Boy happened to be singing, jawing, fishing, drinking, thinking or just plain being the one and only one of his kind to ever walk the face of the Earth: Hankasaurus Bocephous, Primeval, real people making real music for real folk. That’s the heart and soul of real Country Music: The real deal, the sodium of the planet, true essence of the Art, Religion, Philosophy, social graces, Southern Hospitality, transcendent, transparent, transport; above and beyond technology, Ziet Geist, Bon Vivant, be happy, don‘t worry, ain’t nothing’ gonna be alright no how. So there you have it, this magnificent situation orchestrated by an omnipotent conductor: And as the twangy steel guitar kicked off a song in the key of exigency, Hank demonstrated his most heart rendering appreciation for Ms Pushbotton’s vainglorious attempt to keep the squeaky wheels of Music Row rolling without rocking the big bass boat aimlessly floating on the notorious lake of life.
“Listen Mr. Williams, you need to over to Acme Records ASAP! Mr. Shallowmann is waiting for you, at least for the moment, until another instant opportunity knocks on his polished mahogany door; and you become yet another disposable product in a long line of rapidly vanishing impulsive marketing schemes skillfully designed to increase the quarterly sales figures of CD units,” poor Ms Bushbotton’s regurgitated with all the expletive expertise of a drugged senior CPA. Hank tried to swallow that humongous mouthful of mashed manure, but quickly realized that not even the world’s most notable Proctologist had a chance in hell of deciphering the horrendous
hieroglyphics that modern day musicata cloaks itself in, in order to make it perfectly clear to the unsuspecting minority that ‘money makes the sweetest melody on earth!” When tall and lanky Hank sauntered into Acme Records, he was anxiously greeted by Shallowmann’s pretty assistant, Jenny Uppity (her real name was Norma Jean Cook). She had the looks of twenty with the savvy of sixteen; and she proved it beyond the partially blocked incandescence of indecision by uttering the following platitude: “I hope you sing better that you look!” Hank smiled Grand Canyon wide without an iota of animosity in mind. He looked Jenny square in the eyes and said: “Honey, the sun is 93 million miles away and you still let it be a star. Howse about givin’ me a chance to shine before you go callin’ me otherwise? Jenny could only reply, “Whatever, please follow me.” They walked down the hallowed halls that led to the pulsing heart beat of the thriving business called Country Music: The clink and the clank of vibrating typewriters, the instant gratification of Fax machines and telephones, the celestial electronic thinking of computers- communication everywhere and not a drop to drink, the hallucination of the oasis: sleek Sheiks directing their harem inside satin tents, palm trees dropping down coconuts on parched people, somebody said: “I’ll do lunch, if you’ll do me”; and their people called their people and that led to words, and those words led to even more words. Now everyone was talking, but no one was listening; and the deafening silence fell like broken cash registers on the humdrum eardrums of the bungling chosen few who will select the next big hit you may choose to endure. The gold plated sign on the polished mahogany door read: ‘Richard J. Shallowmann, VP of A&R. Jenny knocked three times. She entered. Hank curiously followed, and History rewrote itself beginning with the minor complaint: “Jenny, I told you to never let the janitor in here while I’m working!” “Sorry Ritchie, but this is Hank Williams. He’s here to see you about a Record Deal, per your request. Hank, this is Richard Shallowmann, VP of A&R. I’ll leave you two alone. Call me if you need anything.” And she vanished like a water stain on a coffee table. “I’m Richard Shallowmann, VP of A&R at Acme Records. I can shake ‘em, make ‘em and break ‘em before you can say ‘My Achy Breaky Butt!’ They call me ‘God the Sequel’ cuz I’m still making stars. That other guy quit after six days. Anyway, Hank, sit down, take a load off you mind. Let me tell you what I can do for you!” Hank wanted to make that little devilish laugh of his, thought better of it, and in his own best interest, followed the misguided misdirection of Richard the Lying Heartless and pulled up a soft, brown leather chair, and lent out his very best ear. “Hank,” Shallowmann continued, “Let’s get down to bees wax. The hat works. We’re always in the market for a ‘Hat Act’. We can garner a significant market share from that angle alone.
Maybe we’ll go with black instead of white. Add a little dark intrigue to the mix. We’ll do the market research later. We’ve got to do something about your LOOK! You’re tall, that’s good. A little too anemic. Maybe too mature looking. They prefer sweet sixteen with a five o’clock shadow. Are you getting all this Hank? No need to respond. It’s all prelim. New Artist, old hat, so to speak. You see Hank, we know our merchandise- that’s you. And we know our market. All you need to know is that the less you know the easier it is to sell your soul. Shallowmann paused to admire the faint reflection of his bloated persona drably radiating off the dirty office window. Hank was thankful for the brief relief. But Shallowmann’s manic mouth marched on: “So we need to work on you Look. Get that Vogue/GQ facade thing happening. You see, we’re merchandising to teenage girls. And they’re still buying dolls…living dolls, mind you. But if that’s what it takes to sell millions of those little round pieces of plastic, then by the powers invested in me by the Board of Directors, by God, that’s exactly what I’ll do!” Hank wasn’t quite sure how to respond to that typhoonish rubbish. He didn’t have a clue what it had to do with music or a bunch of guys jammin’ on a friend’s front porch, sippin’ beer, eating barbecue and pickin’ songs that rise up from the heart and run down through the soul like angel breath, and soothes the mind like Religion and Love, and brings the World closer like Peace and War. See, Hank knew how to express himself simple and pure, true to the roots of the greatest source of all that exists - that place where grace and beauty grows together and sometimes becomes what we dream about before the light of day swallows up everything else, and makes us part of what will always be. So Hank spoke up in the only way he knew how: quick and to a fine point. “Well, Mr. Shallowmann, I can assure you, I like to look my very best! I wear fancy Nudie Western Suits like Tex Ritter and Gene Autry, and I treat my feet to the finest leather wear the Dixon Boot Company has to offer! And I top the whole thing off with a 5X Beaver Felt Resistol! And I ain’t never had nothin’ but compliments about my look!” Before Shallowmann could interject his professional prejudice, Hank continued to express his without hesitation. “Let me play y'all a little tune I wrote awhile back. I think ya might like it. I goes a bit like this.” Hank struck an open ‘C’ chord and sang:
“Hey, good lookin’, whatcha got cookin’…
But before he could finish the first line, the VP of A&R at Acme Records was frantically waving hands in front of Hank’s astonished face, and asked: “Hank, are you gay?” Hank started to say, ‘I’m a might right happy’, but Shallowmann cut him off like a road-rager on the Interstate and rapidly re-tracked his train of thought. “It’s OK if you’re gay. We’ve been searching for a viable means of garnering a significant market share from that demographic group. You could be the ticket, sweetheart! On the other hand, if you’re not gay, you better lose that obsolete idea that woman do the cooking. It’s politically incorrect to assume or imply that the fairer sex belongs in the kitchen performing degrading domestic chores. Although if you ask me - And I’ll deny it if you do - Women were put on earth to perform the 3C’s: Cooking, Cleaning and Copulation. But you didn’t hear that from me, and I’ve got a vicious Jewish Lawyer if you insist on trying to prove you thought you heard me make an anti-feminist, chauvinistic-pig remark!” Shallowmann continued his torrential tirade: “Hank, it’s all about image! Whether you’re selling music or mayonnaise. The end-user purchases an escape from reality. It’s our job to package each product in a way that best accomplishes that task.” .”Well,” Hank interjected, “It’s just a song! I ain’t tryin’ to tell nobody nothing’.” “You couldn’t be anymore wrong if you tried twice as hard!” Shallowmann insisted. “As a Country Music Superstar, you are a role model to millions of adoring, gullible fans. You are responsible to them and accountable to us. You have to be what they expect you to be, and exactly what we demand you to be! They rent you and we own you!” Hank maintained his cool, Southern optimism, and without missing a beat he said: “Alright, maybe you didn’t like that there one, but how about this?” And he sang: ‘I just told mama goodbye, Mother’s Day has turned to night…’ But once again, before he began his next line, Shallowmann symbolically banged the gong: “No! No! No! That just won’t do! Don’t you have anything more positive and upbeat? Nobody wants to be stuck in rush hour traffic at 7 AM and have to listen to a complete downer about somebody’s mother dying. Give me something about a truck or a tractor; something you can line dance to. Be happy, be sappy, be crappy for all I care! But don’t make me think about death before I’ve had my second cup of coffee!” Now Hank was a tad befuddled but not discouraged. He’d dealt with domineering types all his lonely life. And sometimes it lead to the bottom of a bottle. But this time he did what he did best and broke into another great tune:
‘My bucket’s got a hole in it My bucket’s got a hole in it My bucket’s got a hole in it And I cain’t buy no beer’ Once again, Hank suffered the sting of ‘Songus Interruptus’. And suddenly Shallowmann leaped over his hand-oiled teak desk and landed smack dab in front of the Country Crooner; simultaneously and adroitly applying his sweaty right hand across Hank’s partially agape satchmo like duct tape on a kidnapped spy, only to begin pontificating to him from the holy pulpit of his blessed kingdom a’ la Pat Robertson. “First of all, unless you’re Anheiser Busch, you can’t sing songs that glorify the of alcoholic beverages!” Hank sheepishly mentioned that he could change it to ‘milk’. And Shallowmann momentarily considered the faint possibility of a 30 second commercial spot for the National Dairy Association, but quickly dismissed the inane idea based on a negative investment return analysis that he instantaneously performed in his calculator fortified cranium. He continued his diatribe: “Secondly, nobody wants to hear a song about a bucket! You may as well write one about a wooden Indian! Give me another ‘Strawberry Wine’. Now that’s a great song! Shallowmann actually looked half pensive be for he made this painfully obvious observation: “Ya know Hank, maybe you’re too damn Country?” Hank scratched his aching head before he gently removed Shallowmann’s clammy hand from his quivering mouth, and slowly said: “You might be right ‘bout the wooden Indian, but I fail to see the difference between my beer and your wine, exceptin’ the bottles they come in.” “It’s much more complicated than that,” Shallowmann nervously explained, his nose swelling ever so slightly. “Hank, Hank, Hank, you have to understand, this is no long the Music Business; it’s the Business of Music! We have big rents to pay, stockholders to answer to, and public opinion that keeps us from doing what we’d really like to do! So when some young greenhorn, tin horn, high fallootin’ hillbilly, redneck, cowboy, bad boy, snot nose son of a bitch comes knockin’ on our polished mahogany door; he’d better get one thing straight right from the get go: If you want to sell your soul in the ‘Big Show’, you have to go through us! You don’t have to like it! You only have to agree to agree. If you want to resist…Get out! If you want to complain…Do it on your own time in the privacy of your own Hell! Otherwise, get used to it because that’s the way it is.” Shallowmann took a deep breath before he asked: “So Hank, are you in or out?”
“Let me chew on it a while,” Hank said. “I’m driving to Canton in the morning. When I get back, if the good Lord’s willin’ and the creeks don’t rise twixt our house and your office here; I’ll come back and maybe we can make a deal that suits us both just fine.” Hank’s words merged with the hum of the air conditioner and the constant buzzing of the florescent lights, and the whirl of water overflowing, and the twang of an old steel guitar…
© 2009 MB Panasuk .