"Look at the past 25 years — we went downhill, and if people don't realize it, they don't have their fucking eyes on. In 1960, when I came out of prison as an ex–convict, I had more freedom under parolee supervision than there's available to an average citizen in America right now. I mean, there was nobody going to throw you down on the side of the road spread–eagled and look up your butt for a fucking marijuana cigarette. God almighty, what have we done to each other?"
I was driving home from work this afternoon when I heard on the radio that Merle Haggard had died.
Now, no one would ever mistake me for a country music fan, but there are some country singers I like. Most of them are dead now, I guess. Hank Williams Sr. has been gone a long time. Waylon Jennings hasn't been gone quite as long. Neither has Johnny Cash.
I like Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson, too, and I always took comfort in the fact that they were still around — and still recording together. Last summer they released their sixth — and, as it turned out, final — album together. I got it a couple of days after it was released, and I couldn't tell you how many times I listened to it in my car.
I had a couple of opportunities to see him play last year, but I passed them up. It goes without saying, I suppose, that I regret that now. Tickets were too expensive, I tell myself now as I did then. They were expensive, but if I had seen him play, I would have a memory that would last the rest of my life.
And you can't really put a price on that.
Oh, Merle died today. Complications from pneumonia. It was his 79th birthday.
I've seen Willie Nelson in concert — twice. The first time was the summer after high school graduation. I took a couple of girls I graduated with to see him perform with Emmylou Harris. Then, when I was in college, a friend of mine and I went to see Willie Nelson with Ray Price.
Those were great shows, and they are great memories for me. I never think about what those tickets cost — much less than concert tickets today, I am sure, but probably still a bit pricey for the time. I remember the experiences, just as I would be remembering that night when I saw Willie and Merle together.
Except I didn't see them together. I was too cheap.
I'm being too hard on myself, I guess. Like a lot of people, I was hit hard by the Great Recession. Money has been hard to come by for me, and I seldom spend it on something I see as frivolous.
Last year I felt that a concert ticket would be a frivolous expense for me.
I don't feel that way tonight.
Rest in peace, Merle. I think I'll listen to "Are the Good Times Really Over?"