Authenticity. That's a word that has been spouted a lot recently, mostly by supporters of certain politicians who claim that their candidates invented the quality. Of course, what they really mean is that their candidate espouses their favorite ideas and prejudices. It is a misuse, a bastardization, of a perfectly good and descriptive word. I know that because I know what true authenticity looks like.
|Photo by Marty Stuart|
Merle Ronald Haggard
April 6, 1937 - April 6, 2016
An authentic American original
I grew up with country music. That and gospel were the only kinds of music my parents listened to, and so, of course, when I became their "one and only rebel child" as Merle sang in "Mama Tried," I rejected all that and moved on to other things, other kinds of music. But there were a few country music artists that I could never reject. Merle Haggard was one.
There was just something about the man. His song lyrics were almost deceptively simple and straightforward. He sang about his life, his experiences, his feelings, his beliefs. He sang with a lot of sly, often ironic humor as well. And although he wrote in the country genre, his music influenced a wide range of musicians over the years.
Maybe even more important to his art than his lyrics or the melodies of his songs was his voice. It was a warm, silky smooth baritone that seemed to come straight from the heart and expressed emotions that his listeners could understand and relate to even if they were not able to express those emotions themselves.
Merle Haggard wrote sad songs, angry anthems, funny songs, what the Times called "flippant broadsides," thoughtful songs, songs about what it is like to grow up in poverty, what it's like to be in prison, to be an outcast. He wrote about interracial love and love of his country. He even wrote about his distress at seeing the decaying infrastructure of the country as he traveled across it on his constant tours. But I think my favorites were always his simple love songs.
I gave some thought to what might be my favorite; there were a lot from which to choose. I think it might be this one.
There's a line in one of my other favorite songs, "My Favorite Memory," that says, "Everything does change except what you choose to recall." Those we love never change in memory. We always see them as we first saw them. We can hold a moment in time, unchanging. And so will be my memories of Merle Haggard and his music, a truly authentic American original.