Thursday, April 7, 2016
Sheila O'Malley has a sweet remembrance up at her blog. Also Lawyers, Guns and Money has several posts and youtubes up. The loss is stupendous. Everest has crumbled, Gibraltar has tumbled, as it were. My way of looking at music is a lot like Pollock's way of looking at painting: the actual painting is actually an evidence of activity which is now past and over. Music is a doing, an event. The whole studio deal is a complex instrument for actualizing ideas which reside in the mind of the producing musician(s). So you can indeed end up with some weird shit, such as the two guys who are Steely Dan not even playing on some of their work, but still putting it on a Steely Dan LP. Or Laura Nyro creating tracks out of 50 bits of different takes played over a year (Dale Asnby, our engineer on "Chuckin' the Frizz," our live CD from 1979, told me that anecdote as we mixed the album up in his New Jersey home base studio--he'd been Laura's engineer too, and specialized in incredible remote location recordings).
So of course, my favorite bits of Merle Haggard are the live ones. This one is simply perfect, and gets better with every listen. I love Merle's singing, but I also love his extended break. He's going to do one time around, but then goes for one and three-quarters, leaving the last fourth for the great fiddler, who plays a perfect ending section. They'd probably done that whole arrangement before, given that Haggard and the Strangers were working almost constantly at that time, but there's still a life to it, a quality of in-the-moment. You shouldn't play it the same way twice, you should just confront the music in the moment. That's what I try to do when I'm playing, whether it's songs or dance tunes for a ten-minute contra-dance.
He left us so much we can keep on listening for a long long time. One of the folks at Lawyers, Guns and Money posted the Hag's "If I Could Only Fly," a Blaze Foley song of haunting beauty. Check that one out too, and also Merle's live rendition of "Long Black Limousine."
Sheila says in her post, apropos the fact that Merle Haggard died on his birthday: He went out of this world with his fans all thinking about him already. What a tender, heart-rending remark.