Manchester singer-songwriter Kiran Leonard has just released his second album Grapefruit. However his source of spiritual guidance in this project has proved somewhat unexpected to him, let alone anyone else, as life lessons, succour and solace has come from Mike Judge's beloved King Of The Hill. As he gets set to head off on the road – he'll spend the summer mixing festival appearances with his own dates – he explains why its such a guiding force in his life.
Over the past few months I have discovered my god through repeated viewings of seasons 1-7 of King Of The Hill. It demarcates a righteous path to an undoubtedly American God, but a universal one as well (and rarely do the two coincide). Beneath a dry, placid exterior – that often leads a first-time watcher to dismiss the programme as exceedingly dull (as was initially the case for myself) – is a portrayal of a synecdochal small town, and one man's endeavour to contain and understand a world that no longer makes any sense and constantly falls short of expectations.
I first realised that I was undertaking a vigil during the opening scene of Jumping Crack Bass, in which patriarch, former high school football star and propane-selling conservative patriot Hank Hill and his overweight, quasi-effeminate and perpetually disappointing son Bobby are collecting worms for the next day's father-son fishing trip.
When Bobby asks what the point of fishing even is when you can just go and buy one at a supermarket, his father responds: “Bobby, you're missing the point. We don't fish for the fish. Ninety percent of what I like about this sport – and it is a sport – is sitting in the boat for five hours doing nothin'. And the icing on the cake is when God smiles on ya and ya hook one. And then, when you're reeling it in, everything else falls away: you don't think about taxes, or traffic, or that pushy gal that's tryin' to get into the citadel, or who's gonna take care of you when your mother and I are old and incapacitated... All there is is a man, a rod, a lake and a fish. And it all starts with a hand-dug American worm”.
There is great truth to this, even for the non-fisher. And throughout the series our protagonist soliloquises on any number of interests – fixing up his car, drinking in the alley, the importance of shop – that function as distractions, distractions from the fatigue of getting by, the type of distractions that all of us indulge in for exactly the same reason.
On Hank Hill's forehead are the permanent wrinkles of stress, confusion, (perhaps unbeknownst) psychological fatigue, and an infallible strength of character. His trials and tribulations are amusing to the viewer because they are often reflections on his absurdly straightforward manner and uptightness: having a crisis of faith in democracy upon meeting George W. Bush at a rally and finding his handshake to be incredibly wet and infirm; walking in on his mother “in the throes of … activity” with her new boyfriend, the shock literally blinding him.
One episode tells the story of Bobby being scouted for work as a plus-size child model, which, naturally, Hank greatly disapproves of. In its climactic scene, any other television show would see the father accepting his son's differences and allowing him to follow his dream. In King Of The Hill, Hank physically prevents Bobby from participating, inadvertently saving him from a catwalk jam donut attack. This is a typically misguided and myopic piece of authoritarian parenting that nevertheless turns out to be the right decision.
What can we learn from this? Neither Hank's moral certainties nor our own are shown to be reliable. It reminds me of a great Jason Molina lyric: “Real truth about it is / no one gets it right / real truth about it is / we're all s'posed to try”. What actually serves Hank through his struggle is a devotion to principles that are not socially pre-determined (e.g. a distaste for modelling) but human and spiritual: to the wellbeing of his family and friends and his work. There is comfort in both his ignorance and his wisdom. Kiran Leonard @missythis
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