Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Merle Haggard, "Sing Me Back Home"

This summer has been quite a success from a record buying perspective. Just yesterday I was in Easton, Pennsylvania, taking the kids to the big Crayola Experience playfest. We wandered the rust belt in recovery downtown, and I found a record store where I was able to get a pristine copy of Stevie Wonder's Innervisions for just seven bucks. My best finds have not been soul music, but country music. I went to an estate sale last week, and was surprised to see a huge collection of classic country from the 1960s. I made off with a Charley Louvin solo album and some really old Jimmie Rodgers and Bob Wills compilations. Two weeks before at the incomparable Princeton Record exchange I managed to find, for two bucks each, Porter Wagoner's Soul Of A Convict and Merle Haggard's Sing Me Back Home. I never thought such treasure troves of classic country were available in New Jersey.

Listening to these records has been great, but a little painful. Classic country music is not necessarily my favorite kind of music, but is elemental to my being. Its sounds call forth things in my bones. It is music I associate very strongly with my central Nebraska homeland, and when I hear it, it can make me extremely homesick. I love living here in Jersey and getting to work in New York City, but there are daily reminders that where I live and where I am from are really two different countries within the same country. Sometimes, when it comes to politics, that's a comforting thought. Nevertheless, I miss my family back home and lots of small things, from the taste of a Runza to the sound of a Cornhusker football game coming out of a radio on a fall Saturday afternoon to the skies so expansive that they seem infinite.

One song above all others wrecks me, "Sing Me Back Home." Merle Haggard could get away with a bit of corn in his music because he had the tough guy bonafides. When the man who sang songs about drinking like "Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down" or crime like "Mama Tried" turned to ballads, you get the feeling he means it in a way that you wouldn't if the song was sung by, say, Ray Price. (No disrespect to Ray Price.) It's the song of a convict walking to his execution, pleading for his fellow prisoners to "sing me back home before I die." 

As I have been learning since listening to those old country records, next to food nothing can evoke home like music. The prisoner, knowing he is about to die without seeing his home every again, at least wants the songs of home to send him off in his last moments. And so I listen to that old country music on my record player, and think of home, get a little smile on my face, and try not to cry.


Anonymous said...

I deeply enjoy your blog, I think your writing style and commentary would be good in podcasts form. Food for thought? By the way I find myself going through omaha on a road trip anywhere I should check out?

Werner Herzog's Bear said...

Thank you! I've toyed with doing a podcast, this might be the push I need. Omaha has changed a lot since I lived there, but it's always good to hang out in Old Market. For drinks go to The Dubliner or Dundee Dell.