birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.


He smelled of booze and of rank body. He had one leg. He looked down and out. But he said he was Hank Williams.

This man was standing next to me at a music festival in Birmingham, Alabama, many years ago, a space crowded with lots of sweaty, boozy folks, but he was by far the most boozy and sweaty and aromatic of them all, the kind of person I might avoid talking to on a normal day. He wore a cowboy hat and Western-style clothes, thread bare and stained but once upon a time they had been fancy. He was fascinating to me and there is something about a festival that makes us all "normal," plus I was raised to be polite to everyone, so I did not move away.

"Do you know who I am?" he asked.

"No," I said.

"Maybe you'll know this song," he said, then launched into an Acapella rendition of "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," my favorite song ever. His voice was rough and fractured rather than high-lonesome, a voice that time and drink and maybe cigarettes had taken a toll on but that once had been pristine. It was mournful too--almost believable.

When he finished, the man said, "Everyone says I am dead, but I'm not. I just got tired of all the fame and I took my leave of that world because I needed some peace and quiet back on January 1, 1953, not because I overdosed on alcohol and pain killers the way everyone thinks."

He told me how he lost is leg--an accident, he said, though I suspect it might have been diabetes or some other lifestyle issue. He went on to talk about his son, Hank Jr., and his illegitimate daughter, Jet, and his trials and tribulations through the years.

All I could do was listen. And I could have listened to him speak and sing for hours, but a friend who had been dancing to the band that was on stage finally returned and dragged me away. I left his side, somewhat relieved but also forlorn. Sure, he probably wasn't Hank, but he was remarkable and I have wished ever since that I had stayed and listened some more. I was there for the music after all, and his story and voice were the music of a life I hope I never know but also know is worth understanding.

Room and Board

Iconic Stranger