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Mike Ball: Remembering Hank Williams

I have been a Hank Williams fan since my daddy first showed me how to make a “G”
chord on his big Gibson and taught me to sing “I Saw the Light.” With basic strumming patterns and seldom more than three chords skillfully fitted around poetic, but simple and catchy lyrics, Hank’s songs are perfect for beginning guitar pickers trying to coerce music out of six metal strings stretched across a wooden box.

Though he left his troubled world on Jan. 1, 1953, over a year before I was born on
what would have been only his 31st birthday, his songs have made him a faithful friend who is readily available every time I hold a guitar.

Despite his social standing and lack of academic credentials, Hank was a great
philosopher, but he was too unpretentious to realize it. Like many of us, he was a maze of
contradiction; unlike almost all of us, he was honest enough to openly admit it and was armed by divine providence with the unique talent to plainly express it. Hank could put the hay where the goats could get it because he was exceptionally common.

Through mortal eyes, it might appear that Hank got a raw deal, but I believe he did the
best he could with the hand he was dealt. He was born with spina bifida inflicting him with
chronic back pain, driving him to struggles with alcohol, morphine, and other addicting
substances, which regularly undermined his opportunities for the healthy personal relationships that he desperately craved.

Everybody inevitably suffers. It should be the common bond that draws us toward one
another, but sadly it is more often a wedge that sets us apart. Hank had outlasted my other
boyhood heroes because instead of transmitting his pain to others like most people do, he
transformed it into great songs like “I’m So Lonesome I Cry”, “Cold, Cold Heart”, and “Long, Gone Lonesome Blues.”

Hank may have written those songs to calm the roiling turmoil of his tortured soul, but
they’ve also helped many of us other struggling common folk transform our pain. One of the most effective ways to relieve emotional pain is to shine a light on our common Illuminating our common humanity.

Despite his nearly constant pain, Hank usually kept a twinkle in eye and hope in heart. He
showed his playful side with songs that make us smile like “Mind Your Own Business,” “Move it on Over,” “Jambalaya,” and “Hey, Good Lookin’”.

I took those songs with me through a stint in the Marine Corps and long, challenging law
enforcement career. But my appreciation for the simplicity of his honest insight and wisdom
grew exponentially during the time I spent in Montgomery after my election to the Legislature in 2002.

The political world is full of mostly well-intentioned people trying to convince themselves and others that know more than they do. Unfortunately, the more successful they are at that the more dangerous they are to the rest of us. In politics, pride, power, and pettiness stifle common sense, compassion, and creativity far too often.

Overall, I am grateful to have been granted the opportunity to serve in the Alabama
Legislature for 20 years. While my service brought some some fond memories, dear friends, and limited success, it also brought more disappointment and sorrow than I should probably admit.

There were just too many times when the political fires burned hot, and too few times when people stopped stoking them long enough to listen to common sense. But that was when Hank helped me the most.

I usually kept my daddy’s old Gibson in my office during the legislative sessions and
Hank’s grave is only a few blocks away. When things got crazy, me and that old guitar could slip over there where I could sit on the concrete bench at the foot of his grave and sing his songs and cleanse the politics from my soul. “House of Gold” is an excellent antiseptic. Hank’s songs and my daddy’s guitar could always remind me who I am and who I should strive to be.

Considering that Hank helped me escape the world of politics with my soul intact, I am
honored to travel back to Montgomery on New Year’s Day with my daddy’s Gibson to the Hank Williams Museum to commemorate the 70th year since Hank’s last ride. Hank’s wisdom and wit will always be worth remembering because while culture and styles shift constantly, truth stands forever.

Mike Ball served 25 years as an Alabama State Trooper and agent of the Alabama Bureau of Investigation until his election to the Alabama House of Representatives in 2002. He did not run for re-election this year to devote more time to writing and to publish his memoir: “Picking, Politicking, and Pontificating (How an Ex-Cop Legalized Cannabis While Fighting
Corruption).”

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