Julian Talamantez Brolaski
Ryan Collerd

Rooted in Country: Julian Talamantez Brolaski on Hank Williams' 'Lovesick Blues'

"I think that was Hank's great genius..."

Singer-songwriter and poet Julian Talamantez Brolaski weaves together classic country storytelling and innovative lyricism, sharing their point of view as a trans, non-binary poet of Mescalero and Lipan Apache, Latinx and European heritage.

Brolaski, who released their album It's Okay Honey earlier this year, says hearing Hank Williams' "Lovesick Blues" on a UC Berkeley radio station when they were 19 had a profound impact on their artistry.

"Lovesick Blues" by Hank Williams is really the song that first inspired me to want to sing country music," Brolaski says. "I love the way that Hank breaks his voice in this song. At first it was a mystery to me. Later, I realized what he was doing was yodeling, but...I didn't recognize what it was. I think that was Hank's great genius — translating those nonsense syllables into actual words."

Brolaski recently performed the song exclusively for Wide Open Country readers, changing the song's pronouns for a more universal message.

"My contribution is changing 'gal' to 'pal' and 'she' to 'they' so that it can become anybody's story," Brolaski says.

Raised in California, Brolaski began writing poetry as a teen and left home at 16 to attend college. They studied English and creative writing, later earning an MFA in poetry and a Ph.D. in English. They moved to New York City in 2006, where they became immersed in the queer country music scene.

"It was an exciting time to be in New York," Brolaski recalls. "I put an ad on Craigslist and ended up connecting with all of these queer and trans artists. It was sort of a 'if you build it, they will come' moment, and all of these queer country and Americana artists came out of the woodwork, and people were really into it. It was like a dream come true to be a part of that scene."

Brolaski has published three books of poetry and they are a 2023 Bagley Wright poetry lecturer. They're currently writing a new book of poems and co-editing an anthology of two-spirit poetry.

"I'm interested in the way that language and song function as medicine," Brolaski shares. "My songs are infused with the enthusiasm of addressing a person you're newly in love with and intending to elicit a response, make them feel pleasure, and heal their hurts."

READ MORE: Rooted in Country: Pillbox Patti on John Prine's 'Angel From Montgomery'