Thursday, April 07, 2016

Merle Haggard z''l



I was very sad to see last night that the wonderful Merle Haggard has passed away.

I've collected here some of the times I've blogged about him over the last decade...

Untamed hawk

Johnny Cash coined the term "dove with claws", talking about the Vietnam war:
This past January we took our entire show, along with my wife June, we went to Long Bien Air Force Base near Saigon. And a reporter friend of mine asked, said, "That makes you a hawk, doesn't it?" And I said, "No, that don't make me a hawk. No. No, that don't make me a hawk." But I said, "If you watch the helicopters bring in the wounded boys, then you go into the wards and sing for 'em and try to do your best to cheer them up so that they can get back home, it might make you a dove with claws."
Wade Tatangelo characterises Cash's position as "anti-war/pro-soldier", which is not a bad place to be.

Merle Haggard takes it one step further. Asked "Do you feel like a dove with claws these days?" He replied:
How about an untamed hawk? I’m not going to be a part of the mainstream ever. I’m an American, and I think America is about differences of opinion, and it’s also about integrity and honesty and all those things. We need to gain that respect and that reputation around the world again, as well as in the middle of this country. I think the average American is in a state of confusion as to what to do or who to turn to for help.
By strange coincidence, Haggard's beautiful song "I wonder if they ever think of me" has just come on my shuffle. Although the sound is a little schmaltzy, the opening line is "There's not much a man can do inside a prison", pretty raw for the time. After lamenting the prisoner's loneliness for a couple of verses, you suddenly get this:
I wonder if they know that I'm still living
And still proud to be a part of Uncle Sam
I wonder if they think I died of hunger
In this rotten prison camp in VietNam.

Norm and Karl

In 2008, the late Norman Geras, a big country fan as well as a life-long Marxist, did a Normblog profile of Karl Marx. One of the best bits:
If you could have any three guests, past or present, to dinner who would they be? > Johannes Kepler, Philip Roth and Merle Haggard.
 Being Norm, this was footnoted. The footnote went to the chapter in Capital on the length of the working day. The YouTube link from Merle's name is now dead, but I think we can presume it's this song, which rates, with Dolly Parton's "9 To 5" and Johnny Paycheck's "Take This Job and Shove It", as among the best ever Marxist country songs:



Politically uncorrect

Back in 2006, Chris Dillow wrote something about the complicated politics expressed in songs like those, and how the gap between their sentiments and today's left tells us something depressing about the latter. Here's an extract:
Haggard – and the millions of people he sings for – is regarded as a right-winger simply because the left ceased to be comfortable with conservative (small c) working people. And the discomfort, I suspect, is reciprocated: many working class people (on both sides of the Atlantic) don’t want anything to do with a “left” that consists of multi-millionaire managerialists who hate their way of life.
Healing that gap, healing the left and connecting it with the humanly concerns of the people Haggard sang for, is of course a (necessary, impossible) task that Norm set himself and the rest of us. On that note, I'll leave the last word to Merle, and one of his last songs:




More: Bob's Beats; Merle Haggard on Barack Obama's inageration; Haggard defends Obama