Hank Williams, JR

hank-williams-jr“Stop and think it over,” the big man with the hat and glasses has asked, from a thousand stages, in front of millions of people. “Try to put yourself in my position.”

We can’t. We can imagine, but we can’t know. We can’t know what it’s like to be the only son of Hank Williams, the long gone and lonesome singer whose brief life transformed country music. We can’t know what it’s like to be linked to such a transformative force by blood and name but not by memory, to learn about a famous father from books and photos and others’ stories: Hank Williams died at age 29, when his son was three-years-old.

We can’t know what it was like to wrestle with that legacy, to try to honor all that came before, but not wind up a pale approximation of country’s greatest ghost. Born Randall Hank Williams, but singing as Hank Williams, Jr. before he was 10, the son never had much in the way of a career choice. The choice wasn’t whether he’d sing, but what, how and why. “Other kids could play cowboys and Indians and imagine that they’d grow up to be cowboys,” he wrote in his Living Proof autobiography. “I couldn’t do that. I knew that I would never grow up to be a cowboy or a fireman or the president of the United States. I knew I’d grow up to be a singer. That’s all there ever was, the only option, from the beginning.”

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