Merle Haggard: like never before – October 2003
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Merle Haggard: like never before  Print

By Dan MacIntosh, October 2003

Merle Haggard calls his latest album "Haggard Like Never Before," but he's not slowing down, nor has he completely tamed his well-publicized fighting side. Let's face it: far too many artists put it into autopilot, so to speak, once they reach their twilight years.

But Haggard clearly never got that cautionary little memo; he's still adding to his legacy by writing and recording new songs and not nearly ready to stop and rest on his laurels. With this in mind, the "Haggard" in his album title should be read as a noun, not an adjective.

Believe it or not, Haggard is still working at perfecting his craft. Yes, even the best of the best can still find room for improvement, according to Haggard. "There's more experience," Haggard says of his music today. "We've grown more accomplished in our entire endeavor. We write better. We play better. The only thing wrong with us is we don't look as good."

But seriously, Haggard continues to challenge himself with the whole music making process. "We're just now beginning to understand a little bit about what we're doing. When you're 80 years old, you begin to realize that you're just scratching the surface - whatever your craft may be. We're all in the same boat."

And speaking of boats, you might say Haggard has just built one of his own and in a Noah-like independent fashion. Just to prove that you can teach some old dogs a few new tricks, he's released his current album on his own new record label, Hag Records. Label ownership is one area where experience is both necessary, and priceless.

"It's not a time to be in the business, unless you know something about it." Haggard comments. "But I have studied this business for 45 years, and I really am qualified to run Hag Records a lot better than some kid out of college."

Like any good label executive, Haggard is simply thrilled about his new album. "All those things are coming from me, and people are liking it. So I'm enjoying being in charge of my music for the first time in my life."

One of the new album's songs, "Yellow Ribbons," is an unabashedly patriotic tune. But unlike some of Haggard's past pro-American writings, this one doesn't take any particular political party's side. Instead, it simply reminds Americans to support their troops - no matter where or why they're fighting.

Nevertheless, Haggard's not at all shy about sharing his opinion of America's recent involvement in Iraq.

"I'll tell you what I think," he begins, in typical Haggard fashion. "I'm an American. I consider myself a conservative. I back the troops. I back the commander-in-chief. The reasons for being in Iraq and being where we were are not holding up. I think that if the president of the United States would come up and say, 'Look, we're gonna cut the crap, and here's what happened. We need that oil over there, and there was a couple of butt holes in the way, so we took them out while we were over there.' (If he said that) I believe everybody in America would jump up, and he'd have the greatest ratings of any president in history, and he'd be another Abe Lincoln. But that's not going to occur. And the reasons why we're there (in Iraq) is not (because of) 9/11. They (the government) don't have a chart up there saying how each day we've come closer to catching the people that did this terrible deed at ground zero. Instead of that, we've got a terror alert. Why don't we go back to doing what we were doing before 2001, and act like a country that was not disturbed or affected at all by these idiots, instead of cowering and driving our economy down with bad speeches? And if our president doesn't have good intelligence, who are we supposed to listen to, when the news won't give it to us? I think a lot of Americans are fed right up to their bottom lip of being lied to. I am."

Obviously, Haggard remains well informed. He watches the news regularly, even though he believes our modern day news organizations consistently let us down.

In fact, the song "That's The News" from new album was inspired by just such a disappointment with news organizations in general, and more specifically, by how these companies handled (mishandled?) post 9/11 coverage.

"I don't think I'm young enough to tackle people like Schwarzenegger," he says. "I don't have the kind of money to run for office. Freedom is not free. If you have the money, you can live pretty good in America right now. But it's not good for most people in America. I'm not wealthy, and I've worked all my life. I oughta be wealthy."

Yet if he were younger, he'd certainly consider entering politics, in order to right some wrongs. "If I thought I could do the office a good turn by being there, yeah I'd try it. I've got enough spirit about me, and I think I've got enough sense to realize a lot of things."

While Haggard clearly loves his country, he's nevertheless tired of seeing it deteriorate - seemingly, right before his eyes. "I go across this country, and I've watched this country grow from two-lane highways, to what they are now. I've traveled for 40 years and met lots of people. I've seen lots of bridges break down. And I've seen highways in a hell of a mess. And I think, before we go to rebuilding Iraq, we oughta take a look at California and rebuild some of the bridges in America, close the borders and try to figure out what to do with our situation before we make any further moves."

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