Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Life And Honky Tonk Heartbreak
I just read on the news that Merle Haggard had to cancel a music appearance somewhere down South. The report cited possible pneumonia and age conditions. It's always sad to see a musical icon fading from the scene.
Merle Haggard is one of the many country music stars whose talents I admire greatly. Strangely, I can remember when Merle and most other country singers were not high on my list of entertainers. (Only the powerful laments of Hank Williams could break through my youthful musical snobbery)
Merle Haggard broke into the business down in Bakersfield, California, just a few cotton fields south of where I grew up. Bakersfield in the 50's was quickly becoming "Nashville West" as stars like Buck Owens and Merle and other country singers were plying their trade. Every Saturday night my folks would rally around our old 10 inch black and white TV to watch "Cousin Herb's Trading Post", a country music show which featured all of the budding country singers, including Dolly Parton.
Not for me, I said. Those folks spoke just too damn much like my own family and that was just too close to poverty and hard times and I aspired to get as far away from that when I grew up as I possibly could.
Then, as I grew up, something wondrous happened to me: Life! Life is full of joy and sadness and hope and heartbreak....and I learned that no music captured those feelings as much as country music.
As an example, when the Air Force chose to move us from a base in sunny California and plunged us into the frigid wilds of North Dakota in 1973 we were devastated at the remoteness and distance from family and friends. We arrived in North Dakota in mid summer, but the season changed quickly and by October we were already getting blizzards. Compounding the distress, the Air Force lost my pay records (they were paper records back then) and we experienced some pretty serious financial problems. To help out I took a part time job as a bouncer in a bar in Grand Forks.
Old Merle was singing what was in my heart on the jukebox of that old beer bar. Hour after hour he sang of hard times and heartbreak. Now imagine you are in my shoes and you are listening to this song. ("If We Make It Through December" Tell me Merle wasn't singing this for me and mine:
Later Merle sang for my wife as I boarded planes to remote overseas assignments (Silver Wings). She said she always seemed to hear that song shortly after I left.
I've driven lonely roads, listening to Hank and Merle and Kenny and Buck. I've sat on a bar stool and cried in my beer when they sang of hope, hurt, loneliness and love. Their songs go right to your heart because they sing the truth.
Get Well, Merle.