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As I write this, I am drunk. I am drunk because today was a shitty day, and drinking is what I do when I have shitty days. This day was abysmal for several reasons, one of the major ones being that Merle Haggard died. (Drinking is what he would want me to do, to be completely honest.)
According to CNN, this hero of the working man and the outsider passed away from complications from pneumonia on his 79th birthday. His iconic career spanned six decades, and country music won't be the same without him.
When I first saw that the legendary country outlaw had passed, I said "shit" and immediately started sobbing. Maybe it's because my allergies are so bad right now that I can barely hold my head up, but this celebrity death hit me harder than any in recent memory. (Yes, more than Bowie somehow. It surprised me too. Bowie's death depressed me, but somehow I didn't sob.)
The weird thing is that I wouldn't even describe myself as a "die-hard Merle Haggard fan." I own exactly one Merle Haggard album. It is Okie From Muskogee, which I inherited from my grandfather, and I have rarely strayed from it.
I don't even agree with the overall message of the song, and I'm sure I never particularly agreed with Merle's political views, but he's always been an absolute legend in my mind, and I've long considered him to have one of those perfect voices that never falters.
Like. Have you ever tried to sing "Mamma Tried" during karaoke? It's near impossible, but that doesn't keep me from attempting it.
If you've ever drank with me — like really drank with me — there's probably been a moment where I stopped everything and made you listen to Merle live. Because when you listen to him live, you get what a legend he was. You get what a perfect, beautiful voice he had, and you get why he was so important. (I'll also make you listen to Hank Williams, but we're not talking about that right now.)
It doesn't help that this record, this voice, this artist, is so closely associated with my grandfather. A few years ago, many after Granddaddy had passed, I was visiting my grandmother, and she suggested I look at the vinyls he had left behind. I took all of the outlaw country (don't tell my sisters) and one of the jewels of the collection was "Okie From Muskogee."
Listening to that record has always felt like a tie to my grandfather, and today (well, yesterday as you're reading this) that tie was severed in a way. It's dumb really, because I've never met Merle, and it always feels a little dumb to cry about people you've never met, but here I am. Besides personal associations, Merle was one of the greatest country music singers that has ever existed. Man, fuck the Luke Bryans of this world. That bro country shit can't even touch the lyrical and musical genius of Merle Haggard.
So yeah, I'm sad and drunk, and I'm going to go drink some more, because that's what Merle would do.
Leave you favorite Merle Haggard song in the comments if you like, or don't. I don't think Merle would have cared either way.