The Last Poke Chop


So—y’all are the Ghost World crowd, right?—come on into The Almeria Club‘s soul kitchen, and have some food and other wuv, with Hank Williams Jr., who might be from R. Crumb’s sketchbook (Hank the Cat?) and might, some night, go picking with R.’s own Cheap Suit Serenaders. Junior, do you know Michael Hurley’s “I Heard the Voice of a Pork Chop”? Ah, Junior’s too busy asking hisself, why-o-why did he leave that last ‘un, still calling, all alone on its plate.

If you are Miss Cleo and/or reading ahead, you may be asking yourself, how, pray tell, does Junior get from such fun to “America Will Survive,” and what is it like when he does? Well, in “Last Pork Chop,” he announces, “We devoured each other!” He indeed devours that D-word, and it’s an image that (how did he know this?) fits my own political perspective (if, you know, W. pushes his/our Afghan luck too far). Also, those freshly fried carcinogens are s-o-o juicy (as life do get messy); yum. Junior lets his once impregnable Conservative/Missing Link persona bump into “The ‘F’ Word” (realizes: even baaad-ol’-boy country artists dasn’t use it!). So he “counsels” Kid Rock, who’s half straight outta his roots-therapeutic Cocky, and much more audible when they duet on “Crossroads.” (Oh, your Beeg Ceety cable don’t got CMT? Well, you can catch the rerun on, haw-haw.) And in “If the Good Lord’s Willin’ (and the Creeks Don’t Rise),” Junior draws some swing out of Hank Sr.’s (previously unset) lyrics; jazzy little countermoves, star-spangled-‘n’-ready for that uppity creek.

The centerpiece is “Tee Tot Song,” named after the Authentic Old Blues Man who young Hank Sr. followed around. This could’ve sunk the whole album in mawk, but when Junior, playing his resonator guitar, gently and fearlessly persists with “Won’t you Show me/ Show me/Show me,” he tilts my vision, sets me (and “little Hiram-Hank”) down to study: into “Get your peanuts, fresh peanuts,” Hiram’s own blues-spun pitch, as cosmic foodie Junior can’t fail to note.

So he’s got me there, and then comes that “Cross on the Highway,” something else Hank Jr.’s learned the hard way to see, since two of his close friends were killed in a car crash. A gospel choir (and a searchlight church organ) help him through, but you can hear “Highway” ‘s still grieving, swaying cry, again breaking through the massing acoustic-to-electric “When the Levee Breaks” chords (and other measure-for-measured accruals/reprisals) of “America Will Survive.” It’s the courage of this song, rising above the isolationist fantasy of his original “A Country Boy Will Survive,” that makes it so powerful, and then so disturbing. He just seems too sure of himself now, and of us.

Which is why I’m never sorry to leave The Almeria, and go meet up with Hank III, out on the road. He’s a foot soldier, anthem-less, frankly Lovesick, Broke & Driftin‘. Still, even with “7 Months, 39 Days” to go, he thumps an empty jug high/low, till time to get “pure drunk in the Mississippi mud,” like Hank Sr. hardly ever sang about doing, much less enjoying. Hank III doesn’t have Sr.’s Wife/Mother Demon Muse to attract lightning bolts of inspiration either. No concept (except mebbe “no concept”) album here: This horndawg lives song by song, calling through dustbowl afterimages of his granpaw. Possibly creeping out sleek Daddy Junior, who hangs more with (self-anointed) “rebel son” Kid Rock.

Hank III’s press releases say he only gave up the “$50 punk gigs” because of a paternity suit “and a $300-a-week pot habit.” He says he’s got a rock album that (Three Hanks-“conserving”) Curb won’t release. Once, on “Trashville,” he does use ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons as a stern chordal backdrop, wheeling around, while Hank growls about real country—well, he’s a big Misfits fan, so mebbe this is “real country” to him. All reports indicate that he rocks quite thrashily in clubs (after the rentparty-ready country set), so that’s another reason for staying out there. His tumbleweed tail brushes right by the likes of Mike Curbdawg. All his breakups and crack-ups are behind him. And ahead, I reckon.

Hank III does step up to Lovesick‘s own killer finale, “Atlantic City,” the only non-overloaded version of this Broooce-song I’ve heard. III just tells his girl, forthrightly, almost lightly at first, about all the crazy stuff that’s been happening in the casinos: mob hits, snitches, like that. He gets more rueful with “I got debts no honest man can pay,” but he knows he’s gotta face ’em. He’s still talking to her, steering her along, he and we and she are getting almost too used to the ongoing Situation, till he suddenly gives out a very brief, Hank Sr.-worthy “yodel.” The instruments echo and extend his blue note, in slow motion. The fiddle steadies, carries Hank III and his silent companion into another, eerier view of his repeated instructions, “Put your makeup on, fix your hair up pretty, and meet me tonight, in Atlantic City.” The couple stops to look in the same direction Hank Jr.’s pointing, all along the prime cut of “this whole land.” But what’s past that? Anything? You din’t tell us, Unca Hank! “Now, why did I lee-eave, that last poke chop?”