Friday, April 8, 2016

"About this road we've been running"

On Wednesday, 6 April, which marked his 79th birthday, country music great Merle Haggard passed away. His decision to pursue a career in music was inspired, at least in part, by none other than the Man in Black himself- Johnny Cash. The inspiration occurred when Cash played his famous concert at San Quentin prison, where the young Haggard was a 20 year-old inmate. He was incarcerated for attempted burglary.

According to Dwight Yoakam, who remembered Haggard in a piece he wrote for Rolling Stone, it was Cash who later told Haggard, who was understandably ashamed of having been in prison, during an appearance on Cash's television show, "Merle, I think you owe it to yourself and the public to talk about your life."

Merle Haggard

Whether you live 20 years or 90 years, we're only here for a brief time. It goes by fast, sometimes too fast and other times not fast enough, but truck along it does and at its own clip. All one needs to do to grasp Einstein's theory of relativity as it applies to time is experience how fleeting are the good times and how seemingly endless are the bad times. As Einstein himself explained through his secretary: "An hour sitting with a pretty girl on a park bench passes like a minute, but a minute sitting on a hot stove seems like an hour." Those are words that could easily be turned into lyrics for a country song, could they not?

In any case, Haggard's 2015 duet with Willie Nelson, deemed by Rolling Stone to be Hag's number one "essential" song, "Live This Long," written by Shawn Camp and Marv Green, is our Friday traditio.

"Live This Long" strikes me as a kind of a "My Way" song, only not as defiant. What makes "Live This Long" markedly less defiant than "My Way," it seems to me, is that at the heart of the song lies a contradiction of sorts:

Wouldn't change much of nothing
About this road we've been running
For of wild times, wild women, and a song
But we would've taking much better care of ourselves

The words "taking much better care of ourselves" repeat no less than three times in the song. It seems to me that the regret of not taking better care of one's self belies the expression, "Wouldn't change much of nothing," especially when you consider that taking better care of yourself entails a lot of things, perhaps extending beyond the physical to encompass both the psychological and even spiritual dimensions of one's being. But even if the phrase is taken as only referring to taking better care of the body, especially when one considers the exploits the song extols, it would mean changing quite a lot. But then part of being human, at least as I experience it, is to be somewhat self-contradictory in this regard. St. Paul expressed this well:
For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. So, then, I discover the principle that when I want to do right, evil is at hand. For I take delight in the law of God, in my inner self, but I see in my members another principle at war with the law of my mind, taking me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Miserable one that I am! Who will deliver me from this mortal body? (Rom 7:19-24)
I think Martin Luther stated it more succinctly with his simul iustus et peccator, which phrase refers to the Christian as someone who is simultaneously righteous and a sinner. Maybe it's just that tension that makes the song worth posting and listening to.

I can only speak for myself, but I'd say a life without regrets isn't really a life, at least not a human one. To insist I live without regrets is either to see myself as perfect, something I'm sure neither Merle nor Willie can be accused of, or simply not to caring enough about others and caring far too much about myself.

Another thing worth noting is that Merle Haggard is most probably the only country music great for whom The Sex Pistols opened. It happened on 10 January 1978.

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