Midweek Music Break: Jack White, “You Know That I Know”

Hank Williams fell off this mortal coil, unconscious in the back seat of a Cadillac, on New Year’s Day, 1953. (You can read the story of that ride here.) Not even 30 years old, he left in his wake a trail of hits which almost single-handedly remade the standard by which country-music songwriting would be judged.

But his songs’ story didn’t end there. Aside from their gazillion cover versions to follow, he was also survived by a clutch of handwritten but unfinished lyrics, left behind in that Cadillac and recovered by police at the scene. Somehow those sheets of paper found their way into a dumpster outside the offices of Sony/ATV Music Publishing, where they were discovered by a janitor. After a little legal rough-and-tumble (you can probably imagine), they ended up in the hands of Bob Dylan.

I’ve seen debates whether anyone at all should have attempted to finish these songs. Some comments have questioned whether Dylan should have been that someone. Maybe he anticipated these arguments; maybe he also felt that even his large, multitude-containing self couldn’t contain Hank Williams. In any case, Dylan himself finished and recorded only one, turning the rest over to an interesting handful of collaborators: Jakob Dylan, Merle Haggard, Norah Jones, Sheryl Crowe, Levon Helm, Hank Williams’s granddaughter Holly Williams, Lucinda Williams (unrelated), Alan Jackson, Vince Gill and Rodney Crowell, Patty Loveless, and irrepressible indie chameleon Jack White. The result: a recently released album, The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams.

Williams is often regarded as a troubadour of heartbreak music, based on songs like “Cold, Cold Heart” and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” But he also injected into some of his tunes a healthy shot of wry-and-bitters — witness, for instance, “Your Cheatin’ Heart.” Witness, for another instance, Jack White’s interpretation of “You Know That I Know” on the Lost Notebooks album.

White’s take springs, obviously, from the original (a fragment of which appears at top left of this post). He set it all to a whimsical swinging rhythm, filled in the gaps in the lyrics, and — well, listen for yourself.

[Below, click Play button to begin You Know That I Know. While audio is playing, volume control appears at left — a row of little vertical bars. This clip is 3:53 long.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Lyrics (this very generous transcription courtesy of children’s author and music aficionado Brenda Hollyer; read her own post about the song here):

You Know That I Know
(Hank Williams/Jack White)

Now you know that I know
That you ain’t no good
And you wouldn’t tell the truth
Even if you could
Lying is a habit
You practice wherever you go
And you may fool the rest of this world
But you know that I know

Now you told some of my friends
That you turned me down
But I wouldn’t take you
If you’re the last gal in town
If I had a-wanted you
I could have got you long ago
You may fool the rest of this world
But you know that I know

So baby when you pass me
Don’t you give me the run-around
’Cos if you recall correctly
I’m the guy that brought you to town
To some folks you may be
Mrs So-and-So
But don’t turn your nose up at me
’Cos you know that I know

The last time I saw you
Your pretty hair was red
But today I see you’ve got
Black hair on your head
You say you’ve got you a new man
With plenty of dough
But baby you may fool him
But you know that I know

So baby when you pass me
Don’t you give me the run-around
’Cos if you recall correctly
I’m the man that brought you to town
To some folks you may be
Mrs So-and-So
But baby you may fool them
But you know that I know

Yes you may fool the rest of this world
But you know that I know

Williams’s music is covered in what appears to be an idiosyncratic tome from Harvard University Press (!) called A New Literary History of America, specifically in an essay, “The Song in Country Music,” by Dave Hickey. I haven’t read the essay, and the book’s contents aren’t visible via Google Books or Amazon preview. But that essay — especially its appreciation of Hank Williams’s songwriting — is quoted widely. One place to see the relevant passage: writer Maud Newton’s blog, in a post from 2009.

And what the heck, now that I’ve mentioned it… here’s “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” too (no cover or “interpretation” this time: from the man himself):

[Below, click Play button to begin Your Cheatin’ Heart. While audio is playing, volume control appears at left — a row of little vertical bars. This clip is 2:44 long.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

____________________

Update: Here’s a “making-of” mini-documentary about the album:

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Comments

  1. Jack White, really? Amazing the reach Hank has. Like Jr. says, His ride doesn’t end. (Oops, sorry, is that is spoiler??) Great video, so glad you added that addendum.

    I always liked Jambalaya on the Bayou, but it’s hard to say which of his I like best. It’s quite remarkable how prolific he was in his too short life. Imagine if (another If…) he’d lived only a few more years…

    Now I know exactly what to get my second brother for Christmas (if he doesn’t get it before then). :)

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