I recently watched two documentaries about country music legends - Patsy Cline and Hank Williams - both of whom died around age 30. Both were larger than life and both are fascinating in many ways.
The documentary about Patsy Cline was just so-so, I'd give it a 6, but the one about Hank Williams was excellent. I'd give it a 9 and if you like Hank - and who doesn't - then you should get it. I acquired both via my local library and I'm pretty sure you can get both via not just Amazon but also Netflix.
The Patsy Cline documentary, Remembering Patsy, had a few good sections, my favorite being Willie Nelson reminiscining about writing the song "Crazy" for her and what Patsy was really like. Wikipedia says Cline initially hated the song and I would have liked to have heard more about that. But its exclusion may have had more too do with the movie being spin than poor story-telling.
Too much of the video consisted of relatives of Cline talking about her. I've read that this documentary was put together by Cline's family partially in response to the movie "Sweet Dreams" starring Jessica Lange, which implied something which the family said was inaccurate - namely, that Cline's last husband, Charlie Dick, was abusive.
Charlie Dick is reported to have said of the movie: "It's a great film -- if you like fiction."
Incidentally, I once met Charlie Dick but that's a story for another day. For now let me just say that I'd recently seen said movie and didn't know of those allegations were true (reason #222 why I hate fictional bio pics, you don't know where they stray from the facts) so I wasn't sure how to react to him beyond asking him to move his car becaue he'd boxed me in.
If you're curious what a bunch of songwriters think of Lynn Wikipedia collects their quotes about her here
A much better documentary is the one about Hank Williams: Honky Tonk Blues in that it both reveals much I didn't know - heck, that most of his fans didn't know - namely that he had spina bifida and that some of his use of drugs and alcohol were too deal with the pain as well as fleshing out his too-short life story.
His alcohol consumption was famous and some of the stories told about his alcohol binges are heart-breaking, from the descriptions by his bandmate about how he drank - he's one of those who would not stop drinking until he was super drunk - to others, producers and his wife, telling him how much of a better man, let alone a better artist, he could be if he could get his alcohol consumption under control.
Speaking of his wife, Audrey Shepard, though, I thought it was intersting that some who knew Williams said that some of his best songs came out of his fights with her. I'm reminded of a great New Yorker article I once read about Lucinda Williams (no relation that I know of) who also sang sad country songs. The question posed in the article is whether sad songwriters need to eschew love and relationships since it court hurt their songwriting skills. I know for me all of life is material for future writings buw how i feel affects how and what I write. So if I was really happy it'd be hard to write an authentic sounding sad story.
Seems that just about every time Hank and his wife had a fight he would write a song - you could practically tell when Hank and his wife had a fight based on when he had a good song. The movie even suggests the song 'Cold Cold hearts" was sparked by him going to see his wife after she had an abortion that led to infection and hospitalization. When he went to see her and give her presents – him not knowing she was going to have an abortion – she threw the gifts at him having believd he had been sleeping around while out on tour.
I had no idea that he recorded songs as Luke the Drifter, somehow thinking the idea of having an artist producing products under more than one name was a more recent occurance, as with Stephen King, Donald Westlake and others. His Luke the Drifter songs were more religious-themed.
The best moment of the movie: members of his band recounting how he and the band dealt with problems. He went and bought each of them blackjacks to use as weapons when things went badly, as they often did because the girls in the audience would like the band and the guys with those girls were usually upset by this.
A band member said: "Hank would usually end up using his guitar as a weapon, cracking it over someone's head. So he would buy about a guitar a week, the cheap kind."
The show wisely switches from comments from those who knew him with remarks from a biographer who helps provide context. The Cline video could have benefitted from a similar device.
The movie paints some great pictures telling us, for example, that Hank used to love to go to bars where he'd listen on the jukebox to his own songs - often sung with more commercial success by others.
The movie describes in great detail the final months of Williams life when he was in great pain all of the time. He'd also left his wife and married a woman named Billie Jean Jones Eshlimar. Billie Jean, in the movie, says of his pain, "There are worse things than death." Even while dying, she recollects, he was a romantic, saying things like he wanted to look at her one last time.
In between the wedding and his death the band that had always accompanied Williams, the Drifting Cowboys, announced they were parting ways with him, reportedly because he was drinking more than promoters were paying for shows.
Johnny Cash concerts and Steve Earle movies