An email from a ghost

<  An email from a ghost

I just received an email from the ghost of West Virginia musician Hasil Adkins, who died in 2005.

The poorly spelled contents of the email aren’t particularly insightful or relevant, but it did lead me to look up what I could find on the man known as Haze:

To anyone familiar with the haze of lore surrounding ‘the Haze’ (as he was known to fans), the most remarkable of these benign facts is probably that Adkins managed to make it to the other side of fifty. If half the stories are true, Adkins used up all nine lives decades ago. Night Life is hardly Adkins’ best music, but it is more than the last gasp of a would-have-been.

Creeps Records bills it as a long-awaited “lost” album, for unexplained reasons, but again, with someone like Hasil Adkins, it’s sort of a pointless question, and it’s more impressive that the thing was done at all. In one sense it is the continuation of a frustrating struggle to be noticed and taken seriously. In another, it is a final conceptual twist for a lifelong contortionist, namely, an attempt to straighten long-kinked and knotted limbs.

snip

His unique sound owed everything to his unique approach. Adkins always played all his own instruments—guitar, drums, harmonica, vocals—all at the same time. As a kid, he heard Hank Williams announced on the radio, and by “That was Hank Willliams,” he misunderstood the DJ to mean that all of the sounds were coming from Hank, so he taught himself to do what he thought he was hearing.

The result was something like Jerry Lee Lewis backed up by the Shaggs, falling down a staircase or willfully careening down it on a motorized wheelchair. Between lyrics in many of his songs, Adkins shrieks, wheezes, laughs in rhythm—all to chilling effect, making him sound as though he’s sitting on a hot stove while he sings. As horrifying as it was exciting, Adkins’ act built a small but rabid following, with fans like Jon Spencer, Thurston Moore, and the Cramps, who cited him as a major influence on their punk-psychobilly sound and covered his best known song, “She Said.”

snip

The taut, crazy tenor of his younger voice has sagged into a not-unappealing smoky bass, doubtless aided by his exhausting lifestyle and his diet. He was a strict adherent to what you might call the original “Adkins Diet,” which, like its homophonic counterpart, was low in carbohydrates and high in protein. Hasil’s variation was much stricter, and motivated by taste, not health: it consisted mainly of two gallons of black coffee a day, liquor, and meat, lots of it. Billy Miller said Adkins usually had a pocketful of Vienna sausages, and would order simply ‘meat’ in restaurants, repeating himself when pressed to specify.

So naturally, meat is a prominent lyrical trope. In an early song, “No More Hot Dogs,” meat mostly provides the, uh, texture, for one of his many numbers about decapitation:

I’m gonna put your head on my wall
Just like I told you, baby
You can’t talk no more
Can’t eat no more hot dogs
Eat no more ho’ot dogs,
I’m gonna put your head, a-put it on my wall

By contrast, Night Life’s two songs about meat, “Raw Meat” and “KFC,” are goofy college radio fare, trading in the Ed Gein persona for something a bit more clownish—minus the black van and bloodstains.

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