January 30, 2009

"The Wild Side of Life"


The following post was inspired by a reviewing of The Last Picture Show, so you'll pardon the extra twang (or not).

The other Hank

From the Wikipedia entry:

"The Wild Side of Life" is a song made famous by country music singer Hank Thompson. Originally released in 1952, the song became one of the most popular recordings in the genre's history, spending 15 weeks at No. 1 Billboard country charts, solidified Thompson's status as a country music superstar and inspired the answer song, "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels" by Kitty Wells.

"The Wild Side of Life" carries one of the most distinctive melodies of early country music, used in "I'm Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes" by the Carter Family and "Great Speckled Bird" by Roy Acuff. That, along with the song's story of a woman shedding her role as domestic provider to follow the night life, combined to become one of the most famous country songs of the early 1950s.

According to country music historian Bill Malone, "Wild Side" co-writer William Warren was inspired to create the song after his experiences with a young woman — a honky tonk angel, as it were — who "found the glitter of the gay night life too hard to resist." Fellow historian Paul Kingsbury wrote that the song appealed to people who "thought the world was going to hell and that faithless women deserved a good deal of the blame."


Thompson's original 1952 recording (you know you're curious about this screencap of that, er, honky tonk, uh,...angel):

Here he is a couple of decades later (January 1980) performing it on Hee Haw, so....hee haw!:

Finally, here is a video I edited that includes the scene from The Last Picture Show in which "The Wild Side of Life" is so poignantly and powerfully used, along with a similar (I think) scene from another movie and universe, tacked on the end. So hee haw! again:

10 comments:

Leigh said...

Well done!

I discovered country and western music as a senior in high school, when my best friend and I were planning to enter A&M and making frequent trips to College Station.

It was, in a way, a journey into my family history . . . I remember visiting the family farm in Trinity County, sitting out on the "gallery" on Saturday evening and listening to The Grand Ole Opry.

Hank Thompson, along with the other Hank, was one of the artists I gained an appreciation of.

And you somehow put your finger right on one of my favorite scenes from Star Wars. That other Williams boy, John, did a fantastic job with the music there. He perfectly captured the longing that farm boy had for a wider world.

Leigh said...

The discussion about "Life in a Northern Town" reminded me of two other songs, both tributes to Hank Williams, as "Life" was a tribute to Nick Drake.

"The Ride" and "Midnight in Montgomery" are country favorites of mine. My best friend's brother, a shot-up Vietnam vet and A&M grad student, was a huge Hank fan. When we stayed at his house in College Station, it was all Hank, all the time. I gained a new respect for country music then; these songs remind me of that time and place.

Chris said...

Yes, I'm not the biggest country fan out there, but I do like some of the "classics" (Patsy Cline, a lot, Hank Williams, etc.). And what a better time to discover it than on drives to A&M??

And you are so right about John Williams. What would the Star Wars movies be without him?? Or any of the movies with which he has been involved? I actually was worried he might pass away before the last of those terrible prequels were made. And that "double sunset of Tattoine" scene is so moving and powerful to me on a few different levels. I consider it one of the most classic, important scenes in cinema history. And it would be totally different without that music - Luke's theme, essentially.

I take it "The Ride" is about that final limousine trip for Hank Williams? There's an interesting "imagining" of it at the beginning of the book Nashville Babylon. I'll check those both out.

Leigh said...

"The Ride" is a ghost story. An itenerant singer/songwriter is picked while hitchhiking by a guy in an antique Cadillac.

The stranger asks him:
"Drifter, can you make folks cry when you play and sing?
Have you paid your dues?
Can you moan the blues?
Can you bend them guitar strings?"
He said, "Boy, can you make folks feel what you feel inside?
'Cause if you're big-star bound, let me warn you it's a long, hard ride."

Later:
As I stepped out of that Cadillac, I said, "Mister, many thanks."
He said, "You don't have to call me 'Mister', Mister;
The whole world called me 'Hank'!"

Gary Gentry wrote the song. In other hands, this could be cheesy, but actually it's quite moving.

"Midnight in Montgomery" is also a ghost story written and recorded by Alan Jackson. Jackson stops by the cemetery in Montgomery on New Year's Eve to pay his respects to Hank:

"It's midnight in Montgomery
Just hear that whippoorwill
See the stars light up the purple sky
Feel that lonesome chill
When the wind its right, you'll hear his songs
Smell whiskey in the air
Midnight in montgomery
He's always singing there."

Leigh said...

I also think the double-sunset scene is important. Besides being visually stunning, how better to introduce the quest, help us connect with Luke, and establish him as the hero?

One of the weaknesses of the prequels (among many) is the lack of a similar scene to engage us with Anakin. Some of it may have to do with the limitations of the very young actor in Episode I, but Lucas would have done well to introduce the theme of loss, anger, and grief earlier.

Anakin's departure from Tatooine
has little pathos. When Lucas does try to go there, in Episode II after Schmi's death, we just don't have enough of an emotional connection to really feel Anakin's pain. Lucas does a good job with establishing the "youthful arrogance" flaw, but he doesn't connect us to the grief, fear, and naivete that make Anakin so vulnerable to manipulation. And since this is the central conflict that sets him up for the tragic fall, the omission weakens the prequel trilogy to the point of failure.

gilligan said...

I agree with your assertion that the Luke scene is cinema at its finest.

There was no equivalent scene in the prequels - just lots and lots of Anakikin whining and hurting inside.

I'm not a big fan of country either, but "The Ride" is outlaw country at its best. Good lyrics and a good melody.

Chris said...

Leigh, there is that scene in Episode II in when Anakin takes his speeder(?) scooter(?) speedercycle(?) out to look for the Sandpeople, and Lucas was sure to use the binary suns in the background, with just a brief tease of that beautiful melody used in Star Wars. I thought it was really cool back when I saw Episode II in the theater the day it premiered. But then I saw the rest of the movie...Lucas tried to establish pathos first with the death of Shimi. It sort of worked for me.

Yes, gilligan, I can't tell you how disappointed I was with the prequels. Such an opportunity squandered. Or maybe Lucas could never have made the prequels we imagined he'd make.

Leigh said...

Yes, I saw the connection Lucas tried to establish in the scene on Tatooine after Schmi's death. I just thought it didn't work.

I guess the problem, for me, is that Anakin was pretty blithe about leaving Tatooine, and his mother, to begin with. Maybe Lucas tried to set up the tragedy of her death, but I don't remember any mention further mention of her before, suddenly, we're expected to buy that loss as a prime motivation for Anakin's future actions. I dunno, but I don't remember him, like, MISSING her before she died.

I'll admit, though, that I haven't seen the prequel trilogy anything like the number of times I watched Star Wars. (over 50 before I stopped counting)

Leigh said...

Yes, I saw the connection Lucas tried to establish in the scene on Tatooine after Schmi's death. I just thought it didn't work.

I guess the problem, for me, is that Anakin was pretty blithe about leaving Tatooine, and his mother, to begin with. Maybe Lucas tried to set up the tragedy of her death, but I don't remember any mention further mention of her before, suddenly, we're expected to buy that loss as a prime motivation for Anakin's future actions. I dunno, but I don't remember him, like, MISSING her before she died.

I'll admit, though, that I haven't seen the prequel trilogy anything like the number of times I watched Star Wars. (over 50 before I stopped counting)

Leigh said...

Rats. No idea how I managed to double-post. Sorry.

BTW, I'm wondering now if I missed some of the setup for Schmi's death. And if so, why? Failure of script, acting, or direction? I'm seldom emotionally detached from the story . . .