Saying Goodbye to Bill | In 3 Parts


‘SIT.’ | Many a friend has had a good long chat on Bill’s back deck gazing out across the hills. | | feb2024

by Douglas John Imbrogno | feb13.2024
Reprinted from

Bill Hart, a dear traveling companion through this vale and holler of light and darkness, passed from this mysterious world on Friday evening, on Feb. 9, 2024. It is not easy getting into life or getting out of it. He was encircled in his leavetaking with profound love and devotion, a mirror reflection of his own wholehearted care for those he loved.


‘IT’S A DOG’S LIFE.’ | Bark Raven sniffs the West Virginia hills calling. | | feb2024

On this page is a selection of images from the last days of a worthy man, all from in and around his house in central West Virginia’s heartland. Born in Naples, where his father served as a commander in the U.S. Navy, the Appalachian hills became Bill’s adopted ‘Hart-land.’ You navigated to both of the houses he lived in for much of his later adult life via a corkscrew road down a quiet Braxton County holler, except when the hunting guns boom in the hills or ATVs grumble past. Those of us who were close to Bill knew well his dire diagnosis of liver cancer, which he lived with for years. He outlasted all the odds, yet it carried him away in the end. The memory of his life, work, and devoted friendship lives on.

‘HOUSE IN THE HILLS.’ | A patina of morning frost paints the modest house in the West Virginia hills where Bill wove wonders with wood, electricity, and circuitry. | | feb2024

In March 2023, a few of us launched an oddly spelled website and newsletter, The aim was to share with a wider world a medley of portraits, offbeat homages, and intimate glimpses of a notable human being, artist, and world-class craftsman. And, to be sure, a genuinely offbeat, unconventional, and bohemian soul. As his friend Ron Sowell said of Bill after he departed: “How many people do you know who live life on their own terms?”

‘HARTSVILLE HQ’ | Bill would refer to his back-room/cot-space as his ‘world headquarters.’ Here he is on Monday past, attended by his ever-faithful Bark Raven in the shadows. He was gone by Friday evening. | | feb2024

If you have followed TheHARToftheMATTER intermittently or are coming to it new, see our past posts and free subscribe for more to come. In the next week or so, we are going to say goodbye to Bill through words, imagery, and one special song. (If you knew him well and have a favorite memory or Bill-ism to share, email douglaseyeATgmailDOTcom or leave a comment below this post.)

‘THE GREEN DOOR’ | Sunset paints the ridge while the green door — it’s yellow on the other side, a project of former resident Betty Rivard — welcomes visitors to say goodbye to one man’s well-lived life. | | feb2024

Although William Pendleton Hart walked off this stage at age 69 — to somewhere else on the other side of that unfathomable last breath — the site goes on until we find a conclusion that rings true. I realized recently that theHARToftheMATTER has served as a sort of slow-motion documentary in the making. It’s an attempt to use a modern e-mail-distributed digital platform like to sketch an old soul worth knowing better. Why is that important? And what’s the point?

As his good friend Ron Sowell said of Bill after he departed: “How many people do you know who live life on their own terms?”

‘MEALTIME.’ | You never went hungry at Chez Hart, with its well-stocked larder, supplemented by backyard tomatoes, several breeds of fresh-grown lettuce and other garden goodies. Topped off, maybe, by homemade apple pie with ice cream or cheddar cheese. This shot of Bill is from a December 2023 visit. | | feb2024

It’s like this. The screeching, spirit-crushing 24/7 news cycle wreaks havoc on our best selves. The result — each of us knows it all too well — can be despair, depression, and a kind of toxic hopelessness. To lift up the lives and soulfulness of people of the quality of Bill Hart is a deeply needed tonic. His often strange ways, too, are a feature, not a bug. Maybe it’s just a website about an eccentric guy in the back-nine of the Appalachian hills, where not a few funny cigarettes were smoked and cultivated. But I view this deeper dive into Bill’s wit and wise-guy wisdom, his wild stories and often wild life, and his world-class instrumental manifestations as a counterpoint to narratives of gloom and to our addictive doom-scrolling, these days. So, please stay tuned by free subscribing here.

‘INSTRUMENTALITY’ | Some of the many instruments Bill concocted from scratch or ‘Bill-ified,’ modifying them from existing stock. Bob Webb, my brother David, and I created a photo/video document of the ones in his house two days after Bill’s passing. There are others out in the world. Note the heart-shaped signature piece of wood on the back of his hand-made creations. Utilizing magnets and carbon-fiber, the ‘Hart’ heart pops open to give access to the instrument’s interior or to swap out a battery. | | feb2024

Possibly the most famous lines in the work of Walt Whitman are these from “Song of Myself”:

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes …)

Bill contained multitudes. And let’s be clear. He could sometimes be a contradictory, often confounding person. He was wounded, certainly, by a problematic, tangled upbringing with deep parental and family complexities. Also, he was ever in search of the great love that might help heal some of these deep wounds, I suspect. It’s a mark of his force of character how much he directed his convoluted life and robust lifeforce to creativity, invention, musicality, and comradeship. To being a character, just by his very nature. That’s not even to mention his horse-whispering, tomato-growing mastery, and dual pennywhistle-playing.

‘MAN UP’ | Bill’s dear friend, Seda, holds up for Bill’s sister, Faryl, one of the items of clothing found while organizing and sorting through his possessions after his passing. | | feb2024

You perhaps cannot hope to glimpse some understanding of the totality of Bill Hart without factoring in the fundamental role his congenital, lifelong health challenges posed to his daily life. I suspect I am not the only friend he would ask to pull his index finger out of its joint to show the elasticity of his musculature. (I honored his request, but flinched.) Or to pull up his shirt to trace the direct evidence of the jumbled, internal structure bequeathed him by nature, lineage, and childhood surgical intervention. It must have been his strong will and iron constitution that kept him alive years past the death sentence his aggressive liver cancer meted out to him.


One specific example of the role his health and body played in his life will do. Bill would remark that one reason the legendary guitarist Robert Johnson was able to play so brilliantly was that he may have had Marfan Syndrome, which elongates the body’s features, including — as you may see in the photo above — the breadth of Johnson’s fingers on his fretboard. As the Marfan Trust website notes on its ‘Famous Folks with Marfan Syndrome page: “… In 2006 a physician tentatively ‘diagnosed’ Marfan syndrome, after spotting from a photograph Johnson’s preternaturally long fingers which conferred such navigational prowess on his guitar.” So, why did Mister Hart have an iconic photo of Johnson always on display? His own frame and fingers were elongated by Marfan Syndrome, said Bill, which as the Marfan site notes, is “a disorder of the body’s connective tissue that leads to medical problems affecting the heart, eyes and skeleton.” Not the soul, it appears. Abraham Lincoln, another notable American, had Marfan’s, apparently. So, Bill was in some good and accomplished company.

‘AIR HART.’| During a February 2023 visit, Bill hopped up onto a high-shelf for an air guitar moment. He is flanked by his many recorders and drawings from a lost love, which he used as inspirations for fretboard filigrees he would hand-carve, | | feb2024

How do you say goodbye to someone whose spiritual DNA is entwined in your own? One by one and privately, at first, I suppose. And over time. Maybe a long-ish time. In Part 2 of this remembrance, we will feature memories and recollections by some of those who loved Bill dearly or who fondly recall an encounter with him. A constant troupe of them visited at his house in the days before and after his death. (And a special shout-out to his devoted, utterly professional, yet real-person sweetheart hospice nurses, Kim Harris and Chris Loudin from WVCaring.) As to a public group homage, we are discussing the possibility of a musical memorial on an area stage, featuring musicians playing Bill’s instruments. The working idea: Come see them first, then hear them played later. For news about any gatherings, free subscribe to theHARToftheMATTER.

‘UNDONE.’ | One of Bill’s half-finished creations from his workshop, sitting out the week he died, right next to Raven’s playball. | | feb2024

Over the course of the past week, several of us listened to an early draft of a song we are recording in Bill’s memory. He chose it himself when we talked some weeks back about how he might wish to be memorialized. He swiveled and left the room. Hmmm …. He returned moments later with his iPad. “Listen to this,” he said. It was an epic, mythic tune by Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer, titled “When I Go.” (Here is their amazing version.) Bill’s own DNA runs throughout this great song. We have a draft of our own version underway, with vocals by Heidi Muller and myself, engineered by Bill’s Siamese-soul brother Bob Webb, who will also add his stratospheric electric cello. There are guest turns by some of the finest musicians I know: Ron Sowell, Ammed Solomon, and John Kessler (who along with Bob, plus Julie Adams and Deni Bonet, used to play in the beloved, West Virginia-based band Stark Raven, from whose name ‘Bark Raven‘ is drawn). You’ll hear it when it’s done in the concluding part of ‘Saying Goodbye to Bill.’ As for Bill, he heard the working version about a day before his passing. By then, he had lost the ability to talk or flash a recognizable response. Yet his cellular structure surely vibrated in harmonic convergence with a song that could easily have been written about him and his rich life.

‘ALLEGIENCE.’ | As she did so often in the week of Bill’s passing, especially after he took to bed for good, Raven took point. She guarded and accompanied the man who rescued her one day — when she appeared, emaciated, wounded and fearful out front of his house — and nursed her back to health, revealing her sweet, joyful self. | | feb2024

Sleepless on Saturday night after Bill had passed the evening before, I went out into the deeply quiet Braxton County hills. It was far past midnight. A misty rain bathed the darkened world, which was full of that cool, silky atmosphere so special to the West Virginia outback. I put my AirPods in my ears. Fired up the draft of Bill’s song. And listened as the mountain night deepened on its way to dawn.

Peace outward, my brotherman.

‘NO WORDS.’ | Bill’s sister, Faryl, holds his hands in the final hours of his life. | | feb2024

Thanks to Jeff Seager for his editing feedback on this piece.

Douglas John Imbrogno is a lifelong storyteller in words, pictures and moving imagery. See more of his work and ongoing projects at:

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