On the morning of January 1, 1953, country music star Hank Williams was found dead in the back of his 1952 Cadillac in Oak Hill, West Virginia.
His energy dispersed.
The Light traveled to 50,000-watt radio towers across the country broadcasting his latest single, “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive.”
It had instantly beamed to St. Louis, Missouri, where only hours before, West Virginia native and pianist Johnnie Johnson hired guitarist and singer Chuck Berry to sit in with his trio after his sax player had a stroke. The time of death was estimated as six hours before the pronouncement at 7 am, which would have been around midnight, central standard time, in St. Louis. The Light was there with them ringing in the new year, electrifying the band’s final chords.
The Light visited the lovesick, the good lookin’, the cheatin’ hearts on Valentine’s Day. It visited children and the inner children of grown-ups at screenings of Walt Disney’s new film, Peter Pan. And it visited Christine Jorgensen upon her return to New York after her widely publicized and pioneering sex reassignment surgery in Copenhagen.
In March, The Light took a seat for Arthur Miller’s new play, The Crucible, before traveling to the beaches of Hawaii to shine on Frank Sinatra as he filmed his Academy Award-winning performance in From Here To Eternity, then it was back to the airwaves again, to ring in the season of renewal, rejuvenation, and rebirth, as Dr. Jonas Salk announced his vaccine for poliomyelitis.
The Light was present in April for the end of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s first one hundred days as well as the opening of George Stevens’ Western film, Shane, and the lines, “I like a man who watches things goin’ around. It means he’ll make his mark someday.”
Another burst of energy propelled itself to the summit of Mount Everest alongside Edmund Hillary, who simultaneously had been appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire, at the end of May. It was apropos, then, for The Light to make its way a few days later to Westminster Abbey, London, for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.
Two weeks later, bouncing from one celebration to another, The Light journeyed to the wedding of Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott on her parents’ lawn in Heiberger, Alabama. The following month, more particles of energy flew onward to Hollywood to be arm-in-arm with Marilyn Monroe on the red carpet for the premiere of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, as well as with the group of picketing brunettes outside of Grauman’s Chinese Theater protesting the film.
And no sooner than it had witnessed the end of the Korean War in late July, The Light felt the blast from the first Soviet hydrogen bomb test in August. That fall, some leftover particles were spotted at Edwards Air Force Base next to the Mach 2 as it traveled twice the speed of sound.
From the sword to the pen, The Light gleamed on bookstores and libraries in September in the texts of James Baldwin’s Go Tell It On The Mountain; in October in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451; in November with a self aware laugh at the title of Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye; and brightly within the pages of the first issue of Playboy, published in December.
The Light accompanied Charlie Chaplin as he settled his family into their permanent home in Switzerland and surrendered his U.S. re-entry permit after it had been revoked the previous year. It also permeated the typewriters and legal pads of the pseudonymous blacklisted writers who were still trying to make things.
The Light hopped astral planes for transcontinental flights to observe the deaths of Gucci, Prokofiev, Jim Thorpe, Django Reinhardt, Dylan Thomas, Eugene O’Neill, and the Rosenbergs.
It was diffused by struggle and strife; segregation and injustice; the North Sea flood; earthquakes and hurricanes; unrest and four million striking French workers; pleated pants.
But The Light also emerged for a dance with Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse, it was there for new works by Bacon, Escher, Hepworth, Hopper, de Kooning, Magritte, Matisse, Pollock, Rothko, It was even there for Picasso’s charcoal drawing of Joseph Stalin, following the dictator’s death in March.
It was there in Kentucky where Dolittle Lynn bought his wife, Loretta, a $17 guitar, and appeared in Landsberg, Germany, where Johnny Cash and the rest of his U.S. Air Force Security Service unit watched the Crane Wilbur film, Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison.
Meanwhile, from January 1 to July 18 from West Virginia down to Tennessee, the largest bundle of particles had transmogrified into new elemental molecules within the makeup of a new high school graduate, Elvis Presley, as he—armed with the guitar he had since he was eleven years old—stepped inside of Sun Studios for the first time to record two songs for his mother.
The Light shined on children, too.
It soared back across the ocean to Liverpool in September to see an eleven year-old Paul McCartney take his 11-plus exam. Out of ninety test-takers, only he and three others would pass, meaning he could then attend Liverpool Institute, and therefore, ride the school bus one morning and meet ten-year-old George Harrison.
The Light went to a Jewish camp in Minnesota where twelve-year-old Robert Zimmerman tried to make new friends and write poems for them; and then to Ankara, Turkey, where a one-year-old toddler took his first steps so he could one day become Joe Strummer. It ventured back around to Detroit to shine on eleven-year-old Aretha Franklin, who was listening to her father’s sermon, “The Eagle Stirreth Her Nest,” as it was being recorded for commercial release and would almost sixty years later be included in the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress. Finally, it headed south to a backyard in Nashville to shine on four-year-old child, Hank Jr., who was learning a few of his own father’s songs.
Some energy still moves and some light still shines: sound waves, rhyme schemes, teardrops, morphine drips, baby smiles, creative acts. Other particles turned dark, laid to rest for good under a granite stone in Montgomery, Alabama.
And though The Light would continue to flow and flourish, shimmer and shine, and make manifest, in many-a corner of the universe, magic for generations to come, a large portion would come to rest in the dog days of 1953, back to the radio towers again, to the jukeboxes and turntables across the country, in the mournful strains of the posthumous single:
“I Won’t Be Home No More.”