I must admit; when I see a photo of an older musician making rounds on Facebook, I immediately think the worst. In my defense, they usually only get that kind of attention when they pass away.
Last Wednesday, I was scrolling through Facebook, as I normally do, and I kept seeing posts wishing Merle Haggard a happy seventy ninth birthday. Nothing out of the ordinary. Songs, pictures, videos and stories all made their way to my news feed.
It was around noon when I saw the post that stopped me in my tracks.
It was a picture of Haggard that had already been shared a few times that day. The caption, however, was new and sickening. It read, “Merle Haggard: 1937-2016.”
This had to be a mistake! It was the man’s birthday! Surely this is just another hoax.
Within about 10 minutes, it was clear this was not a hoax. “The poet of the common man” was gone.
Like most, I began thinking about what Haggard’s music meant to my life.
Usually, when one of my heroes passes away, I have some sort of story about them. With Haggard, however, I had nothing. I had never met him, which I recently accepted would likely never happen, and I had never even seen him perform.
The latter is what I kept kicking myself for! I had multiple chances to see Haggard in this area last year and I didn’t go.
For a change, my memories were purely of the music since my songwriting is greatly influenced by Haggard.
Haggard’s music really stood out to me when I first heard it. That recognizable voice told so many stories of a hard childhood, lost love and even prison time, all of which were true.
It seems like we’re losing all the truth in music now. Perhaps we could all stand to learn more from the legends that we’ve lost, and those we’re still lucky enough to have with us. These artists weren’t afraid to tell the truth, and Haggard was certainly the best.
“The wardon led a prisoner down the hallway to his doom, and I stood up to say goodbye like all the rest.”
That’s what happened while Haggard was in prison, so that’s what he wrote.
Now, we try so hard to convince everyone that we’re authentic, we end up being a stale imitation of what someone else once was.
So to the greatest songwriter that ever lived, I say goodbye with a simple line from one of your masterpieces.
“I’ll probably never see you eye to eye again. This letter’s meant to be my last farewell.”