Apr 7, 2016

From a Bakersfield Boxcar

(Collage by Trailer)
From a Bakersfield Boxcar
by Robert Dean

It all started in a boxcar. The little boy from Bakersfield who lost his daddy by nine and was running the streets by ten, by twenty was behind bars. Thus goes the legend of Merle Haggard.

For decades, we had Merle in our pockets – figuring God can’t cut a man like that down. Merle was harder than Cash; he did real time. When Cash was singing in San Quentin, Merle was in the audience. He was everything we dream of outlaws to be. He drank harder, loved meaner, and hit the road almost till the day he died. That was Merle Haggard.

We lost another of the good ones in what’s probably the worst year of loss in the history of recorded music. But, this one stings like losing Lemmy and like David Bowie, because The Hag just wasn’t some jukebox hero, he was a part of the lexicon of so many lives. There are many lonesome souls who’ve sat alone with a beer, trapped in the words of "The Bottle Let Me Down," or "Mama Tried." They’re so personal, but inherent to so many of us – no matter our backgrounds. It’s not rocket science. We’ve all been in some shit a time or another – Hag’s music was simply our soundtrack.

Merle Haggard was the sound of honky tonks and backyard bbq’s, but he was also the heart of garages, and late night card games. Everyone from Metallica to Rancid, from Garth Brooks to dear old Willie, owes a debt to Merle Haggard because he didn’t just create fans: he created life long friends.

We think about the words to his songs. They sink in because they didn’t feel like stories written by someone who hadn’t been there. Hag was there, had the scars, drank the whiskey and burned the book with everyone’s names etched in it. We’re drawn to his fire not because it feels good, but because as humans it’s something we need. The music of Merle Haggard is genuine, and it’s a symbol of American dreams foretold through sweat, regret and hard work.

They weren’t just lyrics, even till the end. What he got down on paper was still true and will always be true. Just like kids discover Hank and Waylon, they’ll find Merle just the same. The music was an accompaniment to the imagery, and we were lucky it was all so good.

No one ever gave Merle nothin’ and for that, we thank them; because the cruelty of the world gave us a legend for our troubles.

Some folks said it rained in Nashville today. What a fitting end to the story.

We’ll miss you, Merle. Safe journeys.

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