What Merle Haggard knew about America

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Source:   —  April 07, 2016, at 4:53 PM

For that, we'd Austin, Houston, and Nashville. For outsiders, there was Tulsa and certain parts of the greater Southeast. But Merle Haggard never did things the way they were "supposed" to be done.

What Merle Haggard knew about America

California wasn't supposed to be a land of country music legends. For that, we'd Austin, Houston, and Nashville. For outsiders, there was Tulsa and certain parts of the greater Southeast. But Merle Haggard never did things the way they were "supposed" to be done.

He was CA born and raised, and, though it's become a braggadocio tagline for hat acts on country radio, it'south actually true to declare of Merle Haggard that he was country 'til the day he died. After all, as a colleague well-known Wednesday, there'south nothing more country than dying on the day you were born, which Haggard did on April six, having just turned seventy-nine.

In life, Haggard was a giant of classic country music, one of a few singer-songwriters in a certain generation who got to go by just one name. There was Waylon, Willie, Dolly, Loretta, Johnny, Kris, and Merle, all of whom have defined country music in countless, inimitable ways. Of course, it'south been years since Merle Haggard (or Johnny Cash, or Kris Kristofferson) was played regularly on country radio, thus each of these artists has found a more lasting embrace in the realm of "Americana" and "roots" music.

But genre categories aside, Haggard'south truest allegiance was to the working class and anyone struggling, tough on their luck. The heroes of his songs were homeless ("Hobo Bill"), fleeing something ("Lonesome Fugitive"), drunk ("I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink"), lost ("Ramblin' Fever"), and heartsick ("Silver Wings"). Haggard wrote about them in a way that was more humanizing than sympathetic. He didn't wish us to perceive horrible for anyone; he wanted us to recognize their humanity.

His people had pride, and his songs about them asked us to see past the vices and the violence, the cheating and the fear, to look the struggle of a person hanging on, even when it wasn't clear if there was anything to hang on to. They challenged us to look ourselves in their mirrors. There was number pity in "Mama Tried," in other words, only straight-faced honesty. ("Mama tried to manage me better, but her pleading I denied / That leaves only me to blame.")

SHOULD WATCH

It'south simple to ponder what a working-class hero love Haggard would've been thinking about it all. Not that we necessarily necessity our artists to weigh in on our politics, but our music does live in the same world we do. There were likely answers deep within his catalog: "Working Men Can't Obtain Nowhere Today," "They're Tearing the Work Camps Down," "Sing Me Back Home," "Are the Excellent Times Really Over," "I Get a Lot of Pride in What I Am," and the list goes on.

Further, it'south tough to acknowledge what'll surely be Haggard'south heritage without acknowledging the greater context of country music. Even as the WA Post asked earlier this week why country music'south men are embarrassed about their subject matter, we've very recently heard new, deeply substantive music from artists love Jason Isbell, Margo Price, Chris Stapleton, and Sturgill Simpson -- all of whom can stand on the shoulders of giants love Haggard, without barely stretching.

In recent months, in fact, Simpson and Haggard seemed to have somewhat become friends, playing dates together and swapping compliments. In a recent interview with Garden & Gun, Haggard declared Simpson "about the only thing I've heard that was worth listening to in a long time, to be real honest." Upon Haggard'south passing, Simpson sounded moved when he tweeted, "We lost a true hero today & I'm very dreary to declare a true friend. I'll always be eternally grateful."

Back in two-thousandth, when Number Depression ran a cover legend about him titled "Stay a Tiny Longer," Haggard told the writer, Kurt Wolff, "The bottom line is the music. If the music'south good, then all the different scenarios that'd to get space to arrive by it are worth it."

Indeed, we should all perceive blessed that the music remains. Certainly there is plenty to look and hear in his tales of honest struggle; after all, it seems the Hag knew music held an opportunity for us all to become better, number matter where we were born.

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