Country music is absurd. It’s overly melodramatic and the rhythms are happy when the words are sad. It’s about love when it means to be about loss. The sound comes from the nose when the truths are from the gut. In other words it’s all backwards.
Hank Williams resonated with people because he was foul and crass and said angry words when he was angry. He was also emotionally sublime, was sweet when he was sweet and told the truth except when he lied. His songs are the most funny and the most sad. And his songs age.
Classic country music can be so ironic to our ears today. Songs like “My Son Calls Another Man Daddy” are completely over the top and when we hear it and har har to our buddies and shake our heads and think about those old rubes and hillbillies and the hoary old jokes they would tell and we forget sometimes to laugh with rather than at them. And then one day maybe the joke is on you. Or do I mean me? Waylon Jennings would say it best years later: “This is getting funny, but there ain’t nobody laughing.” Hank’s songs are like that. Some days they are funny. Some days they aren’t. Some days you laugh at him. Some days he laughs at you.
This particular song is simple. Really most of them are. He wrote it with a woman named Jewell House of Texarkana who ran the a small jamboree and record shop. Jerry Rivers kicks it off on his fiddle and the rest of the Drifting Cowboys fall in behind him. Don Helms works the high end of his steel with some lovely Hawaiian phrasing. Hank’s voice is a deep baritone. It’s steady and doesn’t crack and doesn’t take long to get to the point: his son calls another man daddy. That’s it. What more needs to be said. The economy of sorrow is something he was a master of and all of us gabbers and boohooers should take note. The song when felt is devastating. It has no joy, no winner, and the only joke is it isn’t funny.
I won’t suppose I know what the song is really about though, not like other men know anyhow. But I know enough to know what it’s not.