Before country music beckoned, legend has it Merle Haggard was responsible for arguably the most inept robbery in the history of crime.
During his wild youth, he decided to make a little easy money by breaking into a bar. So he waited until closing time and went to the backdoor, after much loud struggling managed to get it open, and went inside to discover… a bar full of people staring at him.
Because Merle was so wasted he didn’t realize the bar was still open when he pulled the perfect crime.
The songs are filled with pain—that you inflict on others, that others inflict on you, that you inflict on yourself—yet they’re more inspiring than depressing.
It sounds too ridiculous to be true, but damned if it doesn’t sync up with his arrest record.
That inept criminal career helped spur one of the greatest bodies of work in country music: Arguably, no singer-songwriter has done it better since Hank Williams Sr. And Hank only did it until his death at 29, while Haggard produced his first album in 1965 and his last in 2011 at 74.
Haggard had a genius for producing songs that somehow lived up to their titles: “The Bottle Let Me Down,” “Mama Tried,” “The Fightin’ Side of Me.”
(He also recorded “Okie from Muskogee”, the rare tune that simultaneously manages to celebrate and satirize small-town values. Incidentally, despite “Okie”’s opening line—“We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee”—Haggard went on to duet with Willie Nelson on the single “It’s All Going to Pot.”)
Haggard’s best songs often strike a tone best characterized as:
“Borderline suicidal, yet defiant.”
Because the songs are filled with pain—that you inflict on others, that others inflict on you, that you inflict on yourself—yet they’re more inspiring than depressing.
Check out “I Take A Lot of Pride in What I Am.”
Boasting one of the best opening lines ever (“Things I learned in a hobo jungle…”), it deals with isolation, poverty, parental abandonment (“I keep thumbin’ through the phone books/And lookin’ for my daddy’s name in every town”), and other fun stuff… but damned if isn’t rousing when Haggard proclaims:
“I take a lot of pride in what I am.”
Goddamn right you do, Mr. Haggard. We miss you already.