Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Merle Haggard (1937-2016): A brief remembrance

Merle Haggard, seen here in the early 1980s.

A few nights ago, irked by the prolonged existence of the Country Music Awards, I took to Twitter and went on a half-bitter, half-comedic, anti-CMA rant. It's not that I'm against country music. Far from it. Some of the best, most moving songs I've ever heard have come from that genre. The problem is that, every time I have the misfortune of tuning into a radio station that plays contemporary C&W, all I ever seem to hear is overproduced pop pap. It's tough to tell the commercials from the songs sometimes. What really sparked my ire that night, though, was I'd just been listening to a country song that had stopped me dead in my tracks, not a few hours beforehand: Merle Haggard's 1981 hit, "Are The Good Times Really Over?" What I liked about the song was how direct and honest it was. America had gone through a lot of hard times during the 1970s, and this was Merle delivering his unhappy but necessary State of the Union address. Could such a recording still be made today? It doesn't seem to have any connection with the music being advocated by the CMAs in 2016. That night, I googled Merle's name and was happy to find he was still alive. Old but alive. Well, now he's not. He died on his birthday at the exact age of 79. How's that for a country song premise? Anyway, here's the song that impressed me so much. Enjoy. And RIP, Merle.

Addendum: This article is not intended as an endorsement of every single view expressed by Merle Haggard in this song. Throughout his catalog, Mr. Haggard expressed a number of sentiments with which I do not personally agree. "Okie From Muskogee" is a perfect example. That song does not express my philosophy in any way, shape, or form, and yet I like it anyway. I wouldn't change it. Again, my admiration is for the directness and candor of the lyrics. If Muskogee were really as Haggard describes it, I wouldn't last ten minutes there. I liken my appreciation of Merle Haggard to my appreciation of The Notorious B.I.G., who was the subject of another post on this blog. I cannot possibly endorse the violence, misogyny, and homophobia in Biggie's lyrics, but that doesn't really affect my enjoyment of his music one bit. In fact, I don't really like hearing my own opinions echoed in art. Don't tell me what I already know or what you think I want to hear. Tell it to me like you think it is, and I'll make up my own mind. That's what Merle Haggard did, consistently and brilliantly.