Lord, help him tonight
Greatest Flops & Golden Filler
Until recently, I thought Phil "Homer Henderson" Bennison's "Lee Harvey Was a Friend of Mine" was an honest-to-God true story, about a kid who really did grow up next to Oswald in Oak Cliff and who really did used to go fishing with the man who eventually shot John Kennedy in the head. I supposed I could have asked Homer whether the song was autobiographical, but I just didn't want to know the truth. Why spoil the dream? It just sounded so goldang real when Henderson sang those opening words, drawing out each syllable like a tease: "I was born in Dallas in 1952 / Lee Harvey moved across the street on Beckley Avenue," Henderson sings, sounding like a man who can't. "He used to throw the ball to me when I was just a kid / They say he shot the president / I don't think he did." In the end, it's just a brilliant piece of fiction, and far more than a novelty song; it's the kind of thing Bruce Springsteen might have written for Nebraska if the man had a sense of humor. Only Henderson could make Lee Harvey feel like a regular guy ground up in the spokes of history--a victim. If anything, Henderson believes in a conspiracy just because he can't fathom that such a nice guy could do such a mean thing.
Henderson seems to know the deep-dark better than anyone else who ever penned tunes about statutory rape and dreaming about datin' a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader (not the same song). His are folks stuck in the ass-end of nowhere and content to keep paying rent. They're "Pickin' Up Beer Cans on the Highway" because it's the only thing they ever want to do; they seduce 13-year-old women and hate only that they got caught; they hang out in holes-in-the-wall so long, they come down with a fatal case of "Nightclub Cancer"; and they trim their foreskins late in life because girls don't want to date a dude with a "Hillbilly Pecker." Don't laugh at them--cry with them.
Only a fool or a heretic would dismiss the Henderson oeuvre--compiled here for the first time on CD, proof there is a God and He drinks malt wine--as a collection of one-joke wonders. (You think Nick Tosches writes liner notes for "Weird Al" Yankovic?) Henderson has chops and cunning that transcend the punch line; he's Jimmy Reed writing songs for Willie Nelson (or Ted Doyle, whose "Just One More Glass" he covers), singing the low-down blues through a country twang that makes everything sound more cheerful than it is. Proof of his ability: "Hawaiian Ungawa," a trad steel-gee-tar throwdown, and his version of "The Saints" (as in the ones that go marching in), which is all honky and a little tonk. Proof of his genius: "This is my story, and it must be told / How was I to know she was 13 years old?"
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