It seems like we're losing too many music legends too fast these days. Two of my heroes, B.B. King and David Bowie, died within the past year, and we, unfortunately, added another name to that list with the passing of the mighty Merle Haggard.
Hag is one of those musicians who's played a big role in my life. I grew up listening to him, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Willie Nelson playing from my mom's kitchen radio when country radio was good, actually, damn good. Now, all but one are gone. Merle's been referred to as a "champion of the common man" with songs that spoke to blue collar America, such as "Workin' Man Blues" and "Working Man Can't Get Nowhere Today", and definitely spoke to this son of a hardworking truck driver. But, these weren't just songs to Haggard, he lived them. He came from nothing, growing up poor in an old boxcar outside of Bakersfield, CA, and those deeps roots of his raising never left, even as his career became everything to legions of fans.
Haggard had an added level of authenticity to him. He was the only member of the outlaw country movement who was an actual outlaw, having spent a number of years in and out of various prisons, including one, much publicized, stint at San Quentin where he was in the front row for a Johnny Cash performance, which changed him forever. Merle was able to utilize all of these life experiences to write songs about the struggles of hard work, hard relationships, and hard drinking but also touched on the necessity of taking pleasure in the simple things in life when resources are sparse. In other words, he artfully painted a portrait of the common man better than anyone in country music.
Hag left us on his 79th birthday. I doubt there's anything mystical to read into that other than he went out as he came in: a true American original.
Farewell, Hag. Thanks for the music. Thanks for everything.