Sunday, January 22, 2012

Pictures from Life’s Other Side

Luke the Drifter
by Robert A. Waters

On a bone-freezing night somewhere between Tennessee and West Virginia, the soul of Luke the Drifter passed into eternity. It was 1952. The South was still rural, American boys were dying in a little-known place named Korea, and country music was still country.

Luke the Drifter was the “Dr. Jekyll” side of a musician named Hank Williams: kind; generous; spiritual; a man of honor. On the other hand, Hank was an adulterous, addicted, and profligate “Mr. Hyde.”

Luke the Drifter liked to spin morality tales in songs and poems.

“Be Careful of Stones That You Throw” told the story of a town gossip and the neighbor girl who drank too much. “She knows not to speak to my child or to me,” the gossip tells a friend. Then, as the child plays in the street, a speeding car bears down on her. Suddenly, the neighbor girl pushes the child out of the way and is killed by the car.

The child was unhurt and my neighbor cried out,
"Oh, who was that brave girl so sweet?"
I covered the crushed, broken body and said,
"It’s that bad girl who lives down the street."

Okay, it’s kinda hokey, but I love it. It’s a morality tale straight out of the Bible, stuff you won’t get in today’s pseudo-country music, much less any other music. Stuff we need to hear in today’s world.

Luke the Drifter recorded thirteen of these tales. My favorite is “Pictures from Life’s Other Side.” This recording of the song describes four sad vignettes, including a rare verse about the war in Korea. The original recording didn’t have that verse--this version of the song was made during a radio broadcast, most likely just a few months before Hank's death.

(I might add that Hank ain’t for everybody. Neither is this song. But if you like good no-compromise hillbilly tear-jerkers, you might give it a shot.)

Pictures from Life’s Other Side

In the world's mighty galleries of pictures
Hang the scenes that are painted from life.
There’s pictures of love and of passion,
There’s pictures of peace and of strife.
There’s pictures of youth and of beauty,
Of old age and the blushing young bride.
They all hang on the wall, but the saddest of all
Are the pictures from life's other side.

There’s pictures from life's other side
Someone has fell by the way.
A life has gone out with the tide
That might have been happy someday.
There’s a poor old mother at home
Just watching and waiting alone,
Longing to hear from her loved one so dear.
That’s a picture from life's other side.

The first scene is that of a gambler
Who had lost all his money at play.
Drew his dead mother's ring from his finger,
Yes, the one she wore on her wedding day.
It's his last earthly treasure, but he stakes it,
Then he bows his head his shame he may hide.
But when they lifted his head, they found he was dead.
Another picture from life's other side.

Now the next scene is that of two brothers
Whose paths in life differently led.
For one was in luxury living,
But the other brother begged for his bread.
Then one night they met on the highway.
“Your money or life,” the thief cried.
And then with his knife took his own brother's life.
That’s a picture from life's other side.

Now the last scene is that by the river
Of a heart-broken mother and babe.
The harbor lights shine and they shiver
On an outcast whom no one will save.
And yet she was once a true woman,
She was somebody's darlin' and pride.
God help her, she leaps for there's no one to weep,
It’s just a picture from life's other side.

There’s a new scene now in Korea
Of a boy with a gun in the snow.
In a foxhole frozen and homesick,
He’s fighting for us, don’t you know?
He’s lonesome and weary and frightened,
His life may go out with the tide.
But pray God he’ll return
To the loved ones who yearn,
It’s just a picture from life’s other side.

Luke the Drifter knew about life’s other side. He’d lived on the raw edge, and fallen off many times. He’d felt pain, desolation, and desperate hardship with no hope. Except for God.

Near the end of his life, Hank stopped by a church in Louisiana, walked into the empty building, and prayed that God would save his sin-filled soul. He knew he was dying. His body, racked by agony and weighing barely 100 pounds, couldn’t tolerate life anymore. Within days he lay half-frozen in the back of his Cadillac.

On that cold night, as he motored down the Lost Highway between Tennessee and West Virginia, Luke the Drifter flew away from the pain and into clouds of glory.

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