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'Stop rolling downhill like a snowball headed for hell': Go see The Hag

By by dianna wray/dwray@vicad.com
Aug. 10, 2011 at 3:10 a.m.


The music of Merle Haggard is the stuff country music cliches are made of.

The thought went thundering through my brain the first time I really listened to the man. It was like a cartoon for the ears.

The thing is, Haggard, known as "The Hag," may teeter on the edge of a stereotype, but he'll never fall into that bland, pasty pit. Once upon a time, he helped change the face of country music.

When Haggard first arrived on the music scene, country music resembled nothing so much as a besequinned, Nashville-produced vampire begging for a stake. Haggard was a part of a new sound in country music. It was rough, and it didn't gleam with the false shine of the Nashville polish.

In just one song, "Are the Good Times Really Over," Haggard hits every mark. In a voice that is always one misstep from becoming self-parody, Haggard sings about American trucks and women in the kitchen. He's singing about longing for an America that had ceased to exist.

I don't cook, and I've never even driven a truck, but by the second chorus of "Are the Good Times Really Over," I was sighing for a simpler time.

By the second chorus, as Haggard implored us all to "stop rolling downhill like a snowball headed for hell," I was hooked.

I couldn't understand it, but I suddenly loved Haggard's music. When he sang about loneliness, love, heartbreak and America, I believed him. With twangy guitars and vocal harmonies backing him up, Haggard transcended all of the jokes about country music I'd ever made. It took forever to figure out why, but Haggard sails right through all of the assumptions people make because he has the guts to mean what he sings, and the talent to make the listener mean it, too.

But don't take my word for it. Go see him yourself.

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