No, No Joe, 2004

The Ruby Green Art Center
Nashville,  Tennessee
March 26th – May 1st, 2004

In 1947 Hank Williams traveled to Nashville to pitch a radio show to WLAC. In the same year, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, observing the beginnings of a nuclear arms race between the US and the Soviet Union, set the Doomsday Clock for the first time. As the clock ticked, Williams’ own time was running short. In his five remaining years, Williams charted 39 country music hits and the US military tested 62 nuclear devices.

Williams recorded the novelty song No, No Joe in 1950. In it Williams wryly warns Joseph Stalin: “quit braggin’ that your bear can bite, ’cause you’re sittin’ on a keg of dynamite.”

This exhibition plots the hits of Hank Williams and America’s Cold War nuclear weapons tests on graphs running the length of the gallery.

Graph 1: The orange line shows the strength and occurence of A-Bomb test between 1946 and 1955. The medium green line and dark green line show chart position of the A- side singles and B-side singles, respectively. The larger orange circles indicate H-Bomb testing.

Graph 2: On the facing wall in orange, incidents that heightened or decreased tensions in the Cold War and caused the Doomsday Clock to be reset are shown. Set amongst this timeline are incidents in Williams' life in green text. Positive incidents in Williams' life are higher on the graph and vice versa.

The images above link to substantially larger versions on which some of the text can be read.

While the graphs appear to draw a correlation between the two histories, in reality the two stories only really cross when Williams records No, No Joe under the name Luke the Drifter and when he entertains US troops in Germany in 1949. Still, seeing the all-too-short life of a singer from Montgomery set against the escalation of an arms race brings the local, and often sadly mundane, in curious relation to the geopolitical tensions of the era.