Merle Haggard 1937-2016Merle Haggard died today of pneumonia on his 79th birthday. The list of authentic creative geniuses in country music is smaller by one name, and not that many new names are replacing the fallen giants.
Haggard's accomplishments are too many for me to fairly discuss them. I'll just focus on a small one he never knew about. It was his tribute album to Jimmie Rodgers "Same Train, a Different Time," that gave me a love of country-western that lives to this day. Find that album, acquire it, listen and you'll hear what I mean.
Country is like every other genre in American popular music. It's artists striving to produce and perform something true to themselves and others within an industry with a vested interest in grinding off art's rough edges to appeal to the mass audience which like all mass audiences isn't much for originality or truth. Haggard's voice, impeccable sense of music and his personality allowed him to thrive for half a century atop that narrow, narrow balance beam. That's the apex of popular art achievement.
If the Times doesn't have Merle's obit on Page 1 tomorrow, they'll be walkin' on the fightin' side of me. And American cultural history's.