There are many things I enjoy. I enjoy my wife, my children, theology, the outdoors and all the other things that my Christian brothers and sisters who will critically read this think I must include, but let me cut to the chase; I enjoy listening to Merle Haggard’s music. There is nothing quite like being on a road trip and hearing Sing Me Back Home, Mama Tried, Pancho and Lefty, and one of my favorites The Way I Am. You can learn a lot about life from Merle’s songs, even theology. In Ramblin’ Fever Merle confesses the stronghold of sin admitting it is a fever in his soul where he saw no cure for his disease. Mama Tried also teaches us much about human depravity and the natural rebellion of the human heart. Despite all his Sunday learnin’ toward the bad, Merle kept on turnin’, eventually landing him in detention centers, jail, and prison. Only the execution of his friend Caryl Chessman (aka “Rabbitt”) helped him see “what lay in store” if he continued his path of crime and prison escapes—so the Lonesome Fugitive let that part of his life become Yesterday’s Wine.
Merle’s songs are a mixture of his autobiographical inner “outlaw”—his personal struggles from the life he once lived (including his upbringing)—and the more common hardships of life we all face. His mother’s Hungry Eyes are certainly felt in your soul when Merle sings about the poverty of his childhood and the sudden death of his father in 1945 that left his mother “a heavy load" “working hours without rest” and absent from home, thereby opening the path for Merle to pursue a life of crime. His time in prison, however, helped him understand what loss of freedom is really like, and the Okie From Muskogee became folklore for mainstream Americans against hippies. Merle expressed the sentiments of many Americans regarding protests against the country—that if you don’t love it, leave it, because their protests incite The Fightin’ Side of Me.
Perhaps it is Merle’s identification with the working man that makes his songs so felt. Life involves many challenges and financial hardships that, at times, make us question whether we will “make it through December.” We chase dreams and endure the hardships of failure, but rejoice for our wives who stand with us through it all, because That’s the Way Love Goes. How many of us get the Workin’ Man Blues but keep trudging through our obligations knowing we “have to buy our kid a brand new pair of shoes.” Merle’s blue-collar songs connect with our sentiments that the life we must live is often a shackle to the life we want to live as reflected in The Way I Am. Even Urbanites who know nothing but “dirty sidewalks” can resonate with Merle’s Big City to be turned loose somewhere in the middle of Montana and set free.
Irony, maybe, that Merle died 79 years from the day of his birth. The tragedy: Merle still died an outlaw. Patriotic? Yes he was. Did he have a civil religious view of God? Probably. Did he know he was a sinner? Most definitely. Did he believe on the Lord Jesus Christ? Probably not. My fear is that where Merle is now is worse than Going Where the Lonely Go, but, I am ignorant of his final moments. Despite heaven or hell for him now, Merle is a legend in American country music and in the hall of fame. It hurts me deep that for someone like Merle who so often sung to my soul, Things Aren’t Funny Anymore. Although his criminal record was expunged by then Governor Ronald Reagan in 1972, it is only through the merits of Jesus Christ and His atoning blood that Merle can be delivered from the judgment and wrath of the Living God. My ultimate prayer is that in those last moments he placed genuine faith in Jesus Christ, so that now his eternal record before God is expunged in the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. By Merle’s own admission, it was to that end his Mama Tried.
Jason Christopher Glas © 2016