This was originally published in 2012.
by Kellan Miller
Vh1’s “Why We Love the ‘80s” and other mindless television misadventures will have you believe that the ‘80s was a mixed bag of excellence, ranging from “Fraggle Rock” to “The Breakfast Club” to the first official sightings of Bono, which of course would have disastrous unforeseen consequences in the future. However, one tiny man dressed in bellbottom flares and purple ass-less pants stood at the forefront of all this phenomena. That ass belonged to Prince.
The gifted offspring of two gifted musicians, Prince was destined for greatness the moment he entered the world on June 7th, 1958. Born in Minneapolis, his father, John Nelson, named his son “Prince” because “he wanted [him] to do everything he wanted to do.” In 2009, Prince revealed for the first time during an interview with radio personality Tavis Smiley his early battles with epilepsy: “My mother told me one day I walked in to her and said, ‘Mom, I’m not going to be sick anymore,’ and she said ‘Why?’ and I said ‘Because an angel told me so.’ Now, I don’t remember saying it, that’s just what she told me.”
These early Hallmark-card struggles, as early Hallmark-card struggles are wont to do, eventually manifested themselves in glorious, Playboy-esque ways. To fend off the cruel jokes of his classmates, Prince adapted a true ballerific philosophy, constantly striving to be “as flashy as [he] could and as noisy as [he] could.” This early propensity for swagger, coupled with a musical house that included the variegated, yet timeless rhythms of legends such as Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and Carlos Santana, birthed what would eventually become a worldwide household name.
Prince released his first album For You in 1979 at the age of 19. Even for die-hard Prince fans, the album is rarely mentioned, although in retrospect the album contains the bizarre blueprint from which the artist would build his career upon in later years. An eclectic mix of instruments, producing sounds that range from disco to soul to pop music, Prince would only augment his vacillating musical leanings in future recordings. The puppy love of opposing sonic styles would soon materialize into the hardcore, climatic level of raunchiness displayed in Prince’s Purple Rain in 1984.
It is difficult to implement calls for moments of silence through the written word, and to my knowledge it has never been accomplished successfully, but Purple Rain, in all its various forms, deserves such praise and meditation. In the current era, where musicians frequently sacrifice artistic integrity in an effort to satiate the low-attention spans of the ringtone/iTunes/Youtube generation, an album like Purple Rain, constructed almost like a greatest hits album, is a rare spectacle indeed. Some of Prince’s most recognizable songs are featured on this record. “I Would Die 4 U” “When Doves Cry” and “Purple Rain” are such songs, the latter of which, according to a pre-eminent scholar and cultural analyst, “one of the most perfect of pop songs.” (flipcritic, 4).
If the well-earned 45 “Likes” flipcritic garnered on YouTube for ingeniously managing to sum of up the brilliant scope of the song in less than 140 characters isn’t enough to convince you of the widespread influence Prince has had on the world, let me put it in perspective. Daydreams of wedding bells and receptions have never occupied much time at all in my brain. However, when a song like “Purple Rain” comes on, this quickly changes. I start to envision the whole scene, my lovely bride donned in a purple dress (ass-less pants optional, for the time being). With each verse, Prince addresses the main figures of his life, with an epic guitar solo during the final minutes, even epic-er than Slash’s guitar solo during the final moments of Guns N’ Roses “November Rain,” if you were for some reason to compare gloriously overproduced rain-themed songs. I am completely transfixed by the song and its wonders. Often times I have laid prostrate, utterly immune to the goings on of the outer world while listening to the last few minutes of “Purple Rain.” If armed invaders were to encroach upon me in moments of listening, I would be completely vulnerable to their violent whims, yet calmly indifferent as well:
“Hello sir, please allow me to listen last few seconds of Prince’s stellar guitar work before you blow my fucking brains out. Thank you.”
Eccentricity in the entertainment world, especially in the music business, is often times the stasis, and when one considers the meteoric rise of an artist like Prince, the influence of it cannot be denied. Classical composers like Mozart and Glenn Gould were noted for their booming performances, which I imagined caused young women in tightly-strapped bodices to swoon in concert halls. Even in the conservative 1950’s American society, when “Leave it to Beaver” was the ball-chokingly moral standard by which families often aspired to, Little Richard simultaneously shocked and thrilled audiences with his wild stage performances and feminine howling. The basic paradigm of the eccentric music star would present itself repeatedly in the coming years. David Bowie and his makeup. Morrissey and his mullet. Lady Gaga and her meat.
As in the latter case, the artist’s desire to separate themselves often borders on a fabricated attempt to set themselves apart from the crowd, and consequentially appeal to the masses. Within our genetic makeup, we are inherently disposed to attempts to establish our respective identities. Everyone aspires to be different, but in our similar goals we inevitably become the same. This phenomenon often leads to unforgivable mistakes, such as a generation of kids in the ‘90s wearing MC Hammer-style pants. Sometimes I feel as though the only tangible differences between Rihanna and Katy Perry is the respective colors they decide to dye their hair each month. With an artist like Lady Gaga, comparatively, one cannot help but notice the similarities between the two artists. The same eccentric mannerisms, same outlandish outfits, same ignition of penis-or-not speculations, but with that said, Prince’s appeal goes far beyond the tangible, like uncooked meat dresses.
My first encounter with Prince’s music came at a young age. My mother used to drive me to school every morning. During such trips, she listened to an old school radio station called Magic 92.5. Magic 92.5 exposed me to a lot of masters like Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder, artists who would eventually become staples in my iPod playlists, and in a temporary period of confusion, my Zune as well. But at that age none of these legends compared to songs I heard by Prince. The first song I remember hearing from Prince was “Raspberry Beret,” which is still my favorite to this day. Aside from all the disturbing imagery I used in this essay to sing the praises of “Purple Rain,” (pun intended) it is a scientific fact that a person cannot feel sadness when hearing the song. When “Raspberry Beret” came on the radio, the tragedies of adolescence were obsolete. Problems such as the time I scraped my knee after chasing Kim Gallagher on the playground, or the time I watched Bone-Thugs-N-Harmony’s “Crossroads” video for the first time, or the time Tapanga broke up with Corey, were wiped away momentarily as I listened to Prince sing “I think I looooooOve her” on the radio.
Later, in 1999, the world was preparing for Y2K. Despite not really knowing what it was until much later, I was nonetheless scared. During the last moments of 1999, I was on a plane trip from San Diego to Little Rock to visit my grandparents. Throughout the trip, visions of passengers falling through the air took hold of my consciousness. I figured this Y2K, whatever it was, would no doubt manifest itself in a terrible plane crash. However, the flight crew took precautions to prevent this, of course with responsible steering and whatnot, but mostly with the music of Prince. A spunky flight attendant took it upon himself to commence an unofficial dance contest at the front of the plane. I can’t remember any of the songs that play during that ride except for “1999.” When the song came on, mostly everyone was laughing and singing along, forgetting completely about the very apparent possibility of Y2K. This moment has resonated with me for the entirety of my life.
Homeric tropes align themselves well with “Purple Rain” the film, in my humble yet possibly delusional opinion. Prince can only be viewed as a purple leathered pant wearing Odysseus, who strives to make it home to the bountiful bosom of Appolonia, a bosom that, thanks to the remarkable accomplishments in the fields of science and technology over the years, has maintained its bountiful-ness long after its logical expiration date. The film is largely autobiographical, as Prince struggles to establish his career in the face of family adversities and musical rivalries. Luckily, I watched the film at an early age, and was able to revisit its magic in a steady and healthy fashion as the years progressed. My good friend, Nakul, was not as lucky. He first saw the film in high school, and as most men, was powerless to its effect. He ended up watching the film over and over in moments of free time, totaling over 15 viewings in a very short period.
The level of eccentricity in Prince’s films increased exponentially over the years, but sadly, the quality always didn’t. 1986’s “Under the Cherry Moon” and 1987’s “Sign ‘O’ the Times” are classics in their own right, with quality soundtracks to match. However, if “Purple Rain” was Prince’s Odyssey and Illiad rolled into one, then 1990’s “Graffiti Bridge” is the story so shitty that the Greeks felt it necessary to destroy forever in an effort to preserve prosperity (unfortunately, Tyler Perry’s two sitcoms and other cultural abominations prove that such discretions do not exist in the modern age). Although the soundtrack to “Graffiti Bridge” is one of Prince’s best albums, the sequel to “Purple Rain” performed so low at the box office, that Prince wisely elected never to dabble in the film business again. Minor failings, and major failings of the sort that lose upwards of millions, Prince’s collective filmography holds a precious spot in the hearts of Prince fans, similar to the film “Precious,” based on the novel Push, by Sapphire.
Aside from cult film fascinations and steady album sales, Prince has kept himself visible in the public eye in other formats, like in 2007 when he performed during the half-time show of Super Bowl 42. In that unfortunate time of American history, lovable yet ancient rockers were asked to occupy the coveted half-time show because the unruly, wardrobe-malfunctioning, nip-slip prone youngsters couldn’t be trusted with the most watched televised event in the nation (thank God Fergie, LMFAO and Nicki Minaj have brought us back into respectability once again). During the performance, Prince entertained with some of his most beloved songs like “Purple Rain” and “Let’s Go Crazy,” while also performing Jimi Hendrix’s (excuse, me Bob Dylan’s) “All Along the Watchtower” and Ike & Tina Turner’s (excuse me, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s) “Proud Mary.”
Although never too far from the collective thoughts of American audiences, Prince regained a bit of resurgence when Dave Chappelle penned a skit about him in his legendary but short-lived comedic sketch show, “The Dave Chappelle Show.” During the skit, Charlie Murphy, alleged brother of Eddie Murphy, recounts the story of how he was bested in a game of basketball with Prince, a story that is too bizarre and hilarious not to believe. When Prince meets Charlie Murphy at a night club, wearing his famous purple garb, Murphy is shocked that when Prince arrives to the basketball court, he “still got on the same shit he was wearing at the club.” Despite the fact that I watched the episode the day it first aired, I had to revisit it with the aid of re-runs, on account of laughing so hard I almost died. Prince, after magically dominating the court, kindly offers Charlie Murphy a post-game meal of pancakes and grapes.
Prince has also been known to pop up in other oddball ways, like in a few episodes of “The Simpsons.” In one such episode, Homer’s fashionable ode to Prince in the form of his own purple blouse and ass-less pants, is none to welcome, and unfortunately Homer is strangled by Prince’s bodyguard.
Kesha, the lovable mess of a pop-star who is responsible for some of the worst abominable tunes known to music, that somehow miraculously transform into masterpieces after one too many shots of Tequila, cites Prince as one of her biggest artistic influences. In a radio interview with Ryan Seacrest, a man single-handedly responsible for the rising unemployment in America, Kesha related the time where she met Prince. Kesha broke into Prince’s house, sneaking under the fence. Probably shocked by the level of the beast before him, Prince ordered Kesha to be escorted off the premises. It hasn’t been confirmed whether Kesha was handled in the same way as Homer Simpson, but one can dream.
In the summer of 2008, myself and a group of other brave souls decided to pay a mere $300 dollars to spend a week in the desert of Black Rock City, Nevada, for the annual Burning Man festival. If you haven’t heard of Burning Man, I can properly summarize in a few words. It is a festival where people, often engage in a great amount of irresponsible behavior. Using the annual Burning Man Pamphlet as my guide, I stumbled on a few words of divinity, advertising the annual “Burning Man Topless Walk.” My subsequent facial expression must have perfectly conveyed my disbelief and intrigue, because Neal, Nakul’s older brother, only had this to say:
“Oh. So you want to know what paradise is like?” he said.
Filled with the glorious toxins of certain anonymous substances, Nakul and I stumbled upon a few more words of divinity in the pamphlet. “Come to the Prince Party! A DJ will be playing all of the Prince classics as we party like it’s 1-9-9-9! Plenty of ‘Purple Rain’ for everyone!”
Needless to say, Heaven on Earth, in all ways imaginable, was in our grasp.
Later while awaiting the “Prince Party,” my campmates and I soothed our eager spirits with illegal spirits, but mostly talk of Prince. Inevitably the discussion turned to marijuana-infused debate, as we all defended our choices for our favorite Prince songs. Nakul’s older brother shocked me when he said that “KISS” was his favorite song.
“Really?” I said.
“Yeah, why not?” he said.
“Out of all of Prince’s songs, “KISS” is your favorite?”
“I love the kiss sounds he makes. They’re genius.”
Soon the time came for us to make our several mile trek across the desert to the party of our dreams. The Burning Man festival is designed like an imagined clock, with different campsites positioned on different areas around the clock. This seems logical, because the only way that naked, drugged-out hippies can decipher matters of geography, or anything for that matter, is to relate simple concepts that they have firmly grasped early in life during sober moments. During our trek, we had a difficult time locating the party. Like slaves working in the field, we hummed Prince songs through call-and-response as we tried desperately to find the location.
“I was dreaming when I wrote this, so sue me if I go too fast,”
“But life is just a party, and parties were meant to laaast.”
We eventually reached our destination, much too our disappointed surprise. The garden of Prince memorabilia that we had all envisioned didn’t exist. There were no Prince songs playing in the tent, and no Purple Rain anywhere in sight. Infuriated, I saunter up to the DJ and in a calm, polite tone, asked him exactly what the fuck was going on. Apparently, we had been duped. There was no Prince party, and probably the greatest sin of all, the DJ had never even heard of Prince.
Prince, the man, the myth, the legend, is still prone to moments of profound weakness. Despite the enormous amounts of money he has amassed over the years, in 2007 Prince went on a tirade against free file-sharing websites such as YouTube on the bullshit-laden premise that these sites unfairly comprise the artistic integrity of his art. This is the same artist, who I have deliberately abstained from mentioning, that underwent one of the most profound periods of bullshit to be recorded in history. In the ‘90s, Prince decided to change his name into a symbol, for reasons that he even he isn’t too sure of. In late-night talk-show monologues and ‘SNL’ skits subsequently referred to him as “the artist formerly known as Prince.” It pains me to speak about such an atrocious level of attention-seeking in an artist I admire, so I won’t elaborate, but such astounding gaffes of the human imagination makes me fear the peculiar shapes of fuckery future generations will have to contend with. I sincerely regret the day when I have to explain to my future son the benefits of multi-tasking. Getting brain, talking on the phone, and still having racks on racks on racks is something to be desired.
Prince, like this essay, is a deeply unorganized collection of features that when analyzed together, is near impossible to infer much meaning from. Since his commencement in the public eye, he has done nothing short of shock the human imagination, and consequentially, harvested a nation of devotees. The fact that a man can rise from nothing, and in turn, fashion himself a pair of pants with nothing to cover his ass, is remarkable to say the least. Despite imposters, there has never been an artist like Prince, the Justin Bieber era in which we live shows no signs that this will ever change, but of course, littler men with much bigger wallets have taught me to never say never. Like I mentioned earlier, one can dream.
by Julian Spivey
An important shot was fired on Friday afternoon (April 8) against North Carolina’s discriminatory HB2 law, known to some as the “bathroom law,” which dictates which public restrooms transgender people can use and also gives workplaces the right to exclude LGBT citizens when Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Bruce Springsteen announced the cancellation of an upcoming concert in Greensboro, N.C. that was set to take place on Sunday, April 10.
Springsteen released a statement on his website that was also shared on his social media pages that in part said: “I feel that this is a time for me and the band to show solidarity for those freedom fighters. As a result, and with deepest apologies to our dedicated fans in Greensboro, we have canceled our show scheduled for Sunday, April 10th. Some things are more important than a rock show and this fight against prejudice and bigotry — which is happening as I write — is one of them. It is the strongest means I have for raising my voice in opposition to those who continue to push us backwards instead of forwards.” You can read his entire statement: HERE.
As a huge Springsteen fan, who just witnessed his terrific concert in Oklahoma City last Sunday evening (April 3), I understand the mixed emotions that his fans in North Carolina must be going through at the moment. They were looking forward to seeing their hero and just 48 hours before the show that was taken from them, but I hope they understand the importance of this and why it needed to be done.
Springsteen has always been a “man of the people.” And being a true “man of the people” means standing for the basic human rights of all people. When a state is making laws that discriminate against certain groups of people like North Carolina (and a few other states) have done the only way to truly fight against those measures are to hit people where it hurts – the pocketbooks (of the local businesses) and in the hearts (taking away pleasurable events for its citizens). This way if the politicians won’t fix their mistakes maybe the people of the states will get fed up and vote them out and find a more equality-minded option.
Don’t give me this “the law is designed to keep predators and pedophiles from sharing a restroom with our wives and daughters BS” either, because statistics show there’s NEVER been a case in the U.S. where a transgender person has been convicted of assaulting somebody in a restroom. In fact, these discriminatory laws make it unsafe for transgender people, who have been assaulted in restrooms.
Springsteen is the first major artist or brand to pull out of an appearance in North Carolina since HB2 was passed, but NBA commentator Charles Barkley has called for the NBA to move the All Star Game, set to take place in Charlotte in 2017, from the state and relocate it elsewhere. It’s a decision NBA commissioner Adam Silver should really think about.
Springsteen’s decision to pull out of the Greensboro concert simply makes me prouder than ever to consider him my all-time favorite artist. We should celebrate artists in this country who stand for what they believe in, but often when such things take place these artists are met with statements from people like “keep your politics out of music.” Politics have always been a part of music (ever heard a Vietnam era song?) and real artists don’t shy away from their beliefs. Besides, this isn’t really a political topic anyway, it’s a human rights topic and we should all be given the same rights, no matters our sexual preference or identity. Springsteen gets this and believes fighting for these rights are more important than a great rock and roll performance. He’s absolute right and we should respect his decision. Despite the fact that he’s not hurting for money, when a man leaves this much profit opportunity on the table you know he means business.
Hopefully other artists will follow Springsteen’s suit in North Carolina and other states where similar laws have been passed or are on the table to be passed. Standing together for what’s right is the only way to really see change in this country.
In Oklahoma City last Sunday night I witnessed Springsteen sing these very lyrics: “The dogs on main street howl/’cause they understand/If I could take one moment into my hands/Mister, I ain’t a boy/No, I’m a man/And I believe in a promised land.” Today he took that moment into his hands and if we could all live in Springsteen’s ‘Promised Land’ we’d all be a lot better off.
by Julian Spivey
If I were to ever carve out a Mount Rushmore of my all-time favorite musical artists Merle Haggard would definitely be one of the four faces to make the cut, along with Bruce Springsteen and Johnny Cash and then I’d probably have to spend a ton of money chiseling away and re-sculpting the fourth face depending on the day until I finally ran out of rock.
Haggard, this legendary figure who always seemed like he was just one of us, died on Wednesday, April 6 on what was his 79th birthday. His son, Ben, posted on social media that a week ago Haggard, who’d been fighting complications of pneumonia for months, predicted he would pass on his birthday.
Merle Haggard was recently voted the most influential artist among a panel of more than 100 living country artists and yet he still feels sorely underrated to me. I guess that’s because he was the “poet of the common man.” He’s the greatest country songwriter to ever live, in my opinion, but I believe his matter of fact, simplistic way of lyrical honesty has kept some from seeing his realistic perfection. If people were wanting their songwriters to be William Shakespeare or F. Scott Fitzgerald, Haggard was John Steinbeck. He wrote things the way they really were for most people, not just the upper class of society. Esquire’s Charles P. Pierce wrote on Wednesday (April 6) that “Merle Haggard never sang a dishonest syllable in his life.” He’s absolutely correct, but how many other artists can you truly say something that incredible about?
Haggard always wanted to be known as a writer, even more than as a singer, which I both really identify with and find amazing, because for my money nobody has ever had a greater country voice (not even George Jones, who many give that honor to).
I don’t know how to eulogize Haggard because he meant so much to me as a music fan that I wouldn’t quite know where to either begin or end, so what I’m going to do is just write and it may not come out as a succinct piece. It may become multiple pieces rolled into one, but hopefully you’ll understand and even enjoy.
Introduction to Hag
Johnny Cash was my first foray into classic country music around the beginning of the millennium when I was in my early teens, but Haggard was soon to follow. There was a local radio station DJ in Mountain Home, Ark. where I grew up that would play a lot of Haggard in the mornings while we drove into town to go to school from a small community a half hour away. I swear this DJ played a Haggard tune every morning. “Mama Tried” was the song I remember being played the most and it instantly became a favorite and is still and will likely always be my favorite Haggard song. I wish I remembered this DJ’s name because I really owe him a debt of gratitude for introducing me to one of my Mount Rushmore musical figures.
Being a Johnny Cash fan I had purchased and wore a shirt that was popular around the time of his death that was pitch black with ‘Cash’ written in white lettering. I decided I needed a ‘Haggard’ shirt and had one made at a local shirt shop that was modeled exactly like the ‘Cash’ shirt. I used to wear that shirt all the time in high school. At one point I was probably wearing it on a weekly basis. I’d also get questions about it all of the time from classmates and teachers. Some of the more misfit students at the school thought the shirt was really cool, because they assumed it was in reference to a film titled “Haggard” that was released around the time that starred some of the crew from the popular MTV series “Jackass.” I explained to them that the shirt was in reference to Merle Haggard, one of the greatest country singers that ever lived. They had never heard of him. I was the real misfit, after all.
The shirt was so important to me that I wore it in the first photo I ever took with my now wife, who was my high school sweetheart at the time 10 years ago. It’s a photo I cherish even more at the moment. I’m glad Merle will always be a little part of that.
Seeing Him Live
I’ve had the honor and true pleasure of seeing Merle Haggard perform live three times, each one of them something I’ll always remember and treasure.
The first performance was truly something unusual. I’ll never forget driving to my now wife, then girlfriend’s house in Mountain Home one day during summer break from college and hearing on the local radio station – probably the same one that had introduced to Haggard years before – that he was going to be playing a show in Melbourne, Ark. I couldn’t believe it because Melbourne is a town of fewer than 2,000 people and music legends don’t play towns of fewer than 2,000 people. Not just that, but Haggard wasn’t even going to be playing at a venue … no he was going to be performing in the middle of a cow pasture. It turns out he had a buddy who owned that farm and the buddy had suffered damage from a recent tornado and Haggard was doing the show as a benefit concert to help out. It had to be the hottest day of the summer and would’ve been a truly miserable experience if not for Haggard performing. I’ve been to a lot of outdoor concerts, but never one that uncomfortable. Haggard performed for about an hour, which seemed slightly unusual at the time, but we’d soon find out that he wasn’t doing so well health-wise and would be diagnosed soon with lung cancer. Haggard would beat the cancer and be back out on the road soon.
It would be about five years before I’d see Haggard again and damn if he wasn’t feeling the best this time too. My now wife, then girlfriend Aprille and I went to see Haggard at the Robinson Center in Little Rock on April 2, 2014, which happened to be Aprille’s 26th birthday. You know you’ve found the right one in life when she’s willing to see Haggard with you on her birthday. He was under the weather the entire night, which made it a little hard on him to perform, but he made it through in good humor performing his greatest hits for the packed audience including “Mama Tried,” “Workin’ Man Blues” and “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink.”
The third time I saw Merle Haggard was probably his shortest set, as it was at last year’s Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July festival in Austin, Texas where around 20 terrific acts performed for a packed crowd under a sweltering Texas sun over the span of 14 hours, but it may have been my favorite time seeing him. I didn’t realize this at the time, but it’d be my last chance to see one of my heroes. It was probably my favorite time seeing Haggard, because not only did I get to see one hero, but he also performed with his good buddy and another hero of mine Willie Nelson. Seeing Haggard and Nelson perform their hit version of Townes Van Zandt’s “Pancho & Lefty” was truly a bucket list musical moment for me that I’ll never forget.
Before Haggard’s set that night there was a massive delay of probably one hour, which seemed to annoy the bulk of the audience. Nobody ever knew the reason for this delay, but I’d like to think it was caused by buddies Haggard, Nelson and Kris Kristofferson somewhere back stage playing poker, smoking pot and completely losing track of the time and schedule.
Seeing Haggard perform live three times is something I’ll never forget and will treasure for the rest of my life. It’s country music royalty right before your eyes and something I’ll be able to rave about in front of friends and family and maybe future kids for as long as I live.
Sense of Humor
One of my favorite things about Haggard, even though he often seemed super-serious and was about his music, was he had a great sense of humor and this came through perfectly in one of his favorite jokes where he was set to introduce his supremely talented backing group The Strangers to the audience and then his band would shake hands with one another like that had never met before.
Haggard was also quite the talented impressionist when it came to his country music buddies, which he showed off to great laughs on “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour” sometime in the late ‘60s or early ‘70s by mimicking Buck Owens and Johnny Cash right in front of them. It’s not just one of my favorite Haggard videos, but one of my all-time favorite videos period.
Sit & Watch The Train (Merle Haggard's Died)
by Julian Spivey
I'm gonna walk down through the rain
And sit and watch the train
Passing by in all its glory and remember a bygone day
Then I'll sit and cry because Merle Haggard's died
Singing fightin' side & mama tried and sing me back home again
I think I'll just sit here and drink
Because the world won't be the same
Troubadours are leaving, replaced by tired cliches
And country music's gone, I'll sing a sad song
Everybody has the blues cause
Merle's walked out those swinging doors
My favorite memory involves Pancho and Lefty
Singing songs in Austin, Texas that Fourth of July
Now I think I'll cry as this lonesome train passes by
But someday when things are good I'll see him sing again on high
by Julian Spivey
Merle Haggard has one of the most iconic voices in country music. Haggard’s voice, in fact, is quintessentially country music. Haggard has recorded an incredible 38 number one songs during his half century in the recording industry, so choosing 10 of his greatest isn’t an easy task.
But, here are Haggard’s 10 best …
1. “Mama Tried”
“Mama Tried” isn’t completely autobiographical of Merle Haggard’s life, but there are some truths to it. He was never serving a life term in prison, but he did turn 21 in prison at San Quentin for a robbery stint and the song is from the point of view of an inmate who’s let down his hardworking mother who tried the best she could to stop him from the pain and suffering he’d lead her through by his life of crime. Haggard’s fifth No. 1 of his career, released in 1968, was his biggest hit of his career at that time and remains the song most synonymous with him to this day.
2. “Sing Me Back Home”
A lot of Merle Haggard’s early singles dealt with his experiences of time behind bars at San Quentin from “Mama Tried” to “I’m a Lonesome Fugitive” to “Branded Man.” One of the very best of these was “Sing Me Back Home” from 1967, which became Haggard’s third career No. 1. The inspiration for “Sing Me Back Home” came from a friend and fellow inmate of Haggard’s at San Quentin who went by the nickname of “Rabbit.” “Rabbit” would be executed after an escape attempt went bad and resulted in the death of a security guard.
3. “If We Make It Through December”
“If We Make It Through December,” Merle Haggard’s 16th No. 1 of his career in 1973, is the greatest Christmas song ever written by a popular recording artist. The song tells the struggle of a man who’s recently been laid off from his factory job around the Holidays and doesn’t know how he’s going to cheer up his daughter for Christmas. However, he’s optimistic that the next year will find things better off for the two of them. It’s a brutal song, even with the hopefulness the next year might bring. It’s one of Haggard’s poetic best.
4. “Back to the Barrooms Again”
“Back to the Barrooms Again” from Merle Haggard’s 1980 album Back to the Barrooms was never released as a single, which is interesting because it’s one of Haggard’s greatest vocal performances of his career and would have no doubt been a classic cry-in-your-beer drinking song. Haggard’s performance on this is one fans should turn to when they want to hear something that is unquestionably and unequivocally what country music is supposed to sound like. “Back to the Barrooms Again” is Haggard’s best deep cut.
5. “Ramblin’ Fever”
“Ramblin’ Fever” is Merle Haggard at his honky tonk rocking best. It’s also his outlaw side shining through on one of his best tracks. The song, from his 1977 album of the same name, was perhaps Haggard’s loudest and most rocking tune to date and sounded like something that might have fit perfectly on a Waylon Jennings or even a Lynyrd Skynyrd album. It’s one of the most fun songs to hear Haggard perform live to this very day.
Country music is no stranger to incredibly heartbreaking ballads of lost love. Merle Haggard’s best such song is the heart-wrenching “Carolyn” from 1971, which would become his 11th career No. 1. This beautifully sad vocal on the part of Haggard tells of a man whose woman simply no longer pays much attention to him so he sets out for the bright lights of the big city in hopes of finding a woman who cares. The song was written by Haggard’s good friend and mentor Tommy Collins, whom Haggard would later pay tribute to in his 1980 song “Leonard.”
7. “My Favorite Memory”
Merle Haggard’s 27th career No. 1 hit was “My Favorite Memory” from 1981 and it’s his most beautiful love song and one of the best love songs ever recorded in the country music genre. The song sweetly tells of his favorite memories with the woman he loves like the “first time we met was a favorite memory of mine.” Oftentimes the greatest loves songs are the ones that come off as sweet and simple, take Elton John’s “Your Song” for instance, and Haggard’s “My Favorite Memory” is as sweet and simple and brilliant as they come.
8. “Big City”
“Big City,” released in early 1982, was Merle Haggard’s 28th career No. 1 hit and to this day remains an anthem for people wanting to break free from their monotonous life and find something better outside of the big city. The truly great thing about “Big City” is it can be a stand in for any particular place and time in your life that you’d like to escape and Haggard makes “turn me loose, set me free/somewhere in the middle of Montana” seem so attractive that you just can’t help but consider packing up your bags and heading for the Big Sky Country.
9. “Workin’ Man Blues”
Merle Haggard has always been referred to as the “working man’s poet” because his simple and yet beautifully written country songs always seem to speak to the everyday life of the working men and women of America. This side of his is no more represented than by his 1969 No. 1 hit “Workin’ Man Blues.” “Workin’ Man Blues” tells the story of a hardworking man who’d like to catch a train to another town and try to live out his dreams, but he’s got a wife and nine kids to take care of and raise and will always go back working on Monday morning. “Workin’ Man Blues” is definitely a fan-favorite among Haggard’s fans who go crazy when he performs it in concert.
10. “Okie from Muskogee”
“Okie from Muskogee,” a No. 1 hit for Merle Haggard in 1969, is one of the most misunderstood songs ever recorded, not just in the genre of country music but any popular genre. A lot of this has to do with the song being tongue and cheek and some of its listeners not really getting this. That is partly to blame on Haggard himself who at times in his career saw that people were identifying with the narrator of the song (whom he was poking a bit of fun at in the writing) and played it up a bit. Haggard always seems to walk a line with “Okie from Muskogee” even to this day in interviews sometimes admitting to the song being satirical and other times seeming to be more in agreement with the narrator. It’s a bit of a genius move on his part as to not irritate any aspect of his fan base.
by Julian Spivey
This was previously published in 2015
Merle Haggard is one of the most legendary country music singers to ever live. The singer-songwriter has recorded 38 No. 1 country hits and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1994.
Here are five things we love about Merle Haggard:
1. Lived the Life He Sings
Modern country music today seems incredibly fake. Few of the songs actually seem like they’re based in reality with constant songs about tailgates, backroads and tan girls in Daisy Dukes destroying country radio. Country just doesn’t seem country anymore, because it doesn’t seem actually lived in. Merle Haggard lived his songs. Many country legends have had hits about their outlaw ways, but none have lived those outlaw ways like Haggard. His early career was filled with terrific prison songs like “Mama Tried,” “Branded Man” and “Sing Me Back Home” that actually came out of his time incarcerated in San Quentin in California. When Merle sings “I turned 21 in prison” in “Mama Tried” it just isn’t a story, it’s 100 percent true.
2. Speaks His Mind
True outlaws are never afraid to speak their minds and Merle Haggard has done this in song time and time again throughout his long and legendary country music career. Haggard, in fact, has been speaking his mind in his songs ever since his career began with multiple songs taking on the way inmates, like himself, are treated once they are let out of prison in songs like “Branded Man.” He has taken on people not standing up for their country in “The Fightin’ Side of Me,” people burning flags in “Me & Crippled Soldiers,” the needless Iraq War in “America First” and “Where’s All the Freedom” and numerous other subjects over the years. Haggard has made it plainly clear that he will not be silenced on his views and we need more artists like that in this world.
Merle Haggard is very likely the greatest country music songwriter of all-time and yet he never really seems to get the credit he deserves for it. Haggard has recorded an incredible 38 No. 1 hits during his career and many more classics that failed to climb all the way up the music charts, most of which he’s written all by himself. Haggard is known as the “Poet of the Working/Common Man” for his flawless ability to write simplistic and yet beautiful songs that talk of life the way it is. There likely has never been nor will ever be a single songwriter who’s ever written as many country classics as Haggard has.
4. American Hero
Merle Haggard might be 78-years old, but this 2010 Kennedy Center Honoree is showing absolutely no signs of slowing down. In fact, this American hero continues to put out some of the best and traditional country music around. Haggard and life-long friend Willie Nelson have a new album coming out together on June 2 called Django & Jimmie, titled in tribute to their personal heroes Django Reinhardt (Willie’s hero) and Jimmie Rodgers (Merle’s hero). The duo has released the first song from that record already, the pro-marijuana anthem “It’s All Going to Pot” that proves these wild and wooly outlaws aren’t anywhere close to hanging it up in their old age.
5. Sense of Humor
Merle Haggard has always seemed so stern and serious in his music that some people might not realize that he has a great sense of humor. He’s known to crack jokes and have a good time on stage during his live shows, but he’s also proven himself in the past to be quite the impressionist. He showed off his great impression skills on an episode of Glen Campbell’s old variety series “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour” in the late ‘60s when he absolutely became Buck Owens, Johnny Cash and Marty Robbins while doing impressions of those legendary singers.
by Julian Spivey
Merle Haggard has been one of the most influential singer-songwriters throughout the great history of country music. The hall of famer has had 40 No. 1 hits during his career which include “Mama Tried,” “Okie From Muskogee,” “Sing Me Back Home” and “Workin’ Man Blues,” but Haggard has also had some singles and non-singles in his career that stand out among his very best works.
Here are Merle Haggard’s five most underrated songs:
1. “Irma Jackson”
Merle Haggard wanted “Irma Jackson” to be his follow up single to his smash 1969 No. 1 “Okie From Muskogee,” but his record company said no way. The song was about an interracial relationship and executives didn’t think the conservative fanbase of country music would take too kindly to such a song in the late ‘60s. Haggard knew that love was colorblind and it didn’t matter who you loved and recorded the song a few years later for his 1972 release Let Me Tell You About a Song, but unfortunately it’d never be released as a single for him. Tony Booth would release his cover of “Irma Jackson” as a single in 1970, but it would go nowhere on the charts.
2. “Back to the Barrooms Again”
“Back to the Barrooms Again,” from Merle Haggard’s 1980 album Back to the Barrooms, was never released as a single, which is a darn shame because it’s probably one of his 10 best vocal performances throughout his illustrious career. “Back to the Barrooms Again” is the quintessential country music, weeping in your beer, heartbreak song. If somebody wanted to know what true country music was all about this one would make a great start. It should’ve been a single and it may have given Haggard yet another No. 1.
3. “Misery & Gin”
Merle Haggard’s 1980 album Back to the Barrooms was simply filled with terrific country heartbreak tunes, like the one previously mentioned on this list. But, “Misery & Gin” from that album is almost as great. “Misery & Gin,” about a man who always winds back up at a bar to drown his memories and sorrows away, was released as a single in 1980 and made it all the way to No. 3 on the Billboard country chart. It’s one of Haggard’s top vocal performances of his great career.
Can a song that actually made it to No. 1 on the Billboard country chart actually be considered “underrated”? When you’ve scored 40 No. 1s as an artist and some of those songs are bound to be forgotten or at least remembered less than they should be over the years sure a No. 1 can still be underrated. “Carolyn,” Merle Haggard’s 1971 No. 1 hit off of his album Someday We’ll Look Back, is just one of those examples. “Carolyn” was written by Haggard’s dear friend and mentor Tommy Collins and is about a man whose woman has completely given up and ignored him and that’s forced him to leave and find love elsewhere. It’s a truly heartbreaking tune that stands out in a discography filled with similar themes.
5. “America First”
Merle Haggard stopped releasing singles in the late ‘90s, because he realized country music radio wasn’t playing the old guys anymore. But, he’s still put out terrific albums since then and one of those was 2005’s Chicago Wind that included some of Haggard’s most controversial tunes. Haggard has never been one to shy away from recording songs about his beliefs and one of the best of his career was “America First” from that album. “America First” was very critical of the war in Iraq, when important things in this country were being ignored. The song probably didn’t sit well with many of Haggard’s more conservative fans, but it’s doubtful he gave two thoughts about that.
by Julian Spivey
Merle Haggard is very likely the greatest songwriter in the history of country music, which makes formulating a list of his greatest lyrics/verses an incredibly hard task. The “Working Man’s Poet” has had half a century of classic country songs to choose from, but here are the top five …
1. “And I turned 21 in prison doing life without parole/No one could steer me right by Mama tried, Mama tried/Mama tried to raise me better, but her pleading I denied/That leaves only me to blame ‘cause Mama tried” – “Mama Tried” (1968)
“Mama Tried,” Merle Haggard’s fifth career No. 1 hit from 1968, wasn’t 100 percent autobiographical, but quite a bit of it was. Haggard did spend his 21st birthday behind bars at San Quentin for burglary and the song was written about the pain he felt he caused his mother by doing hard time. The part that isn’t autobiographical is that he, of course, wasn’t serving a life sentence. “Mama Tried” has become Haggard’s quintessential song and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.
2. “The warden led a prisoner down the hallway to his doom/I stood up to say goodbye like all the rest/And I heard him tell the warden just before he reached my cell/’Let my guitar playing friend do my request’” – “Sing Me Back Home” (1967)
“Sing Me Back Home,” Merle Haggard’s third career No. 1 from 1967, was another song inspired by his time behind bars at San Quentin, as so many of his iconic songs during his legendary career have been. While in San Quentin Haggard befriended a fellow inmate nicknamed “Rabbit.” Rabbit tried to escape San Quentin and in the process killed a security guard and was later executed for doing so. This incident inspired Haggard to pen “Sing Me Back Home.”
3. “I’d like to hold my head up and be proud of who I am/But they won’t let my secret go untold/I paid the debt I owed them, but they’re still not satisfied/Now I’m a branded man out in the cold” – “Branded Man” (1967)
“Branded Man,” Merle Haggard’s second career No. 1 from 1967, is yet another partially autobiographical song inspired by Haggard’s prison term at San Quentin. The hit is about an ex-con getting paroled, but always having the stigma of being in jail attached to him when he’s trying to re-acclimate himself to the real world. It’s something all ex-cons, including Haggard, surely struggle with upon their release. Haggard was finally pardoned for his crimes in 1972 by then-California Gov. Ronald Reagan.
4. “Turn me loose, set me free/Somewhere in the middle of Montana/And gimme all I’ve got comin’ to me/And keep your retirement/And your so-called social security/Big city, turn me loose and set me free” – “Big City” (1982)
Merle Haggard’s 1982 No. 1 “Big City” from his album of the same name is one of country music’s truly great escapism songs. Haggard is tired of the fast-paced life in the big city and needs something a little more simple and quiet out in the country. Few lines in country music have ever sounded as promising and worthwhile as: “turn me loose, set me free/somewhere in the middle of Montana.” Haggard’s bus driver, Dean Holloway, was the inspiration for this one when one day in Los Angeles on the tour bus he said, “I hate this place. I’m tired of this dirty old city.” Haggard took the line and ran with it.
5. “Yeah, men in position are backin’ away/Freedom is stuck in reverse/Let’s get out of Iraq and get back on the track/And let’s rebuild America first” – “America First” (2005)
Merle Haggard has never been one to shy away from what he truly believes in, something all of the great country music outlaws have always had in common. He’s often gotten political in song throughout his career, which is something not too many country singers have actually ever done. Haggard took a side that surprised quite a few on his 2005 album Chicago Wind with the songs “Where’s All the Freedom?” and “America First,” which criticized the President George W. Bush White House and its bogus war in Iraq while a lot of things in America needed fixing. The above lyric is the most biting one from “America First” and showed that Haggard hadn’t lost his touch as a songwriter with something important to say.
by Julian Spivey
Merle Haggard is one of the biggest icons in the history of country music and was recently named by today’s biggest country stars as the number one artist of all-time in CMT’s All-Time Top 40 in 2014. He’s had 38 number one country songs over his half century in the recording industry, but there’s some facts about him that even the biggest country music fans might not be familiar with.
Here are five …
1. Born in a Boxcar
Merle Haggard has perhaps lived the countriest life of anybody in the history of the country music genre, especially in his younger days. Among the particularly “country” things in Haggard’s lifetime is the fact that he was actually born in a real boxcar. His parents moved from Oklahoma during the dust bowl of the 1930s for a better life in Bakersfield, Calif. Merle’s father, James, worked for the Santa Fe Railroad and took to converting an old boxcar sitting on a piece of land just outside of Bakersfield into a home for his family that was about to grow with the addition of another. Merle was born in that boxcar on April 6, 1937 and would spend a good chunk of his childhood living there.
2. Saw Johnny Cash While an Inmate at San Quentin
It’s pretty common knowledge that Merle Haggard served hard time at San Quentin Prison in California in the late 1950s for robbery and escaping from other jails and prisons, making him one of the few country singers to sing about prison life who actually lived that life. What many might not realize is San Quentin played a huge role in Haggard eventually becoming a music superstar when he saw Johnny Cash perform one of his prison concerts on New Year’s Day in 1958, when Haggard was 20 years old. Haggard served two years of a 15 year sentence before being released in 1960. Cash’s performance made him want to pursue his music passion and got his life straight. Within three years he’d record his first top 20 country single.
3. Pardoned by Ronald Reagan
Sometimes superstardom has its perks, which Merle Haggard no doubt found out in 1972 when he was pardoned for all of his past crimes by then-California Governor and future President of the United States Ronald Reagan just 12 years after his release from San Quentin. Haggard had tried for years to get a pardon, but the appeals process was lengthy and he hadn’t had success. He’d say years later the pardon came as a shock to him and he didn’t expect it to happen. He told CMT.com: “He didn’t have to do it at all. He could have just snubbed his nose and went on to lunch.” Haggard would perform for Reagan 10 years after receiving the pardon when Reagan had become President. Haggard said during his concert: “I hope the President will be as pleased with my performance today as I was with his pardon 10 years ago.”
4. Had a Number One Duet with Clint Eastwood
Merle Haggard has had a few duet partners over his recording career, but none more unusual than award-winning actor Clint Eastwood. Eastwood directed and starred in a movie called “Bronco Billy” in 1980 for which he and Haggard recorded a duet called “Bar Room Buddies” for the soundtrack. Haggard would also appear as himself in the film. It was a fun little drinking/buddy song featuring Haggard doing his usual thing, but the vocals from Eastwood are proof that he chose the right career. Surprisingly the song went all the way to number one on the Billboard country chart in the summer of 1980, becoming Haggard’s milestone 25th career number one.
5. Can Flawlessly Impersonate Other Iconic Country Singers
Merle Haggard is one of the most serious performers in the history of country music. He’s also got a great sense of humor though, that is rarely seem amongst the public. One of the few times his playful side has ever come across on television was during an appearance on Glen Campbell’s variety television series in Haggard’s heyday of the 1960s when Haggard broke out his many impressions of fellow country stars. Campbell said they were “the best country music impressions I’ve ever heard” and he was probably right. Haggard does perfect impressions of Marty Robbins, Hank Snow, Buck Owens and Johnny Cash. The impressions are spot on not only because Haggard is able to perfectly mimic each artist’s voice, but also their playing styles and facial expressions. Things get really fun when he impersonates Owens and Cash and they walk up behind him unbeknownst to him. It’s truly a must-see video.
by Julian Spivey
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band concerts are basically the music version of a religious experience. You might not feel this way going into the arena, but after almost three-and-a-half hours of the greatest rock and roll act there’s likely ever been you’re going to come out feeling like your soul has been saved.
Springsteen and the E Street Band gave their all for the Oklahoma City crowd on Sunday, April 3 at the city’s Chesapeake Energy Arena as a part of the 2016 The River Tour held for a re-release of Springsteen’s timeless 1980 album, which includes outtakes and tracks that didn’t make the initial cut.
On every stop during this tour Springsteen and the E Street Band perform the entire The River album, which if you didn’t know is a 20-track double album, from start-to-finish with “Meet Me in the City,” a truly terrific track that didn’t make the album cut, preceding it.
Following the same 21 songs from The River every night, Springsteen has been throwing in about a dozen or so greatest hits to fill out his epic concerts. This final act, if you will, is legendary enough in its own right to be considered potentially the greatest concert I’ve ever seen, but I’ll get to that in a bit.
Springsteen is my favorite rock and roll artist of all-time, but he has so much terrific music that prior to this tour I had never paid enough attention to The River. When I found out he was adding more tour dates and one of those would be in Oklahoma City, a four-and-a-half-hour drive from my hometown, I knew I had to go and would need to take the two months before the show date to essentially learn The River, other than stuff like the title track and “Hungry Heart,” which were already among my favorites of Springsteen’s discography.
Not only did this binge of The River pump me up for what would become the best concert experience of my life – and that’s saying something; I’ve been honored to see some truly great acts and shows – but made me realize Springsteen’s so much greater than I even previously realized and I already thought he was the greatest of all-time.
I don’t know what it is about this region of the country – I live in central Arkansas and the concert was in central Oklahoma – but it doesn’t seem the people in this part of the country appreciate Springsteen as much as they should and as much as other portions of the country does. I say this because the arena wasn’t really that close to being sold out, which is truly a travesty when it comes to an act of this caliber. Springsteen concerts are the things of legend and because of that alone every seat in the building really should’ve had a butt in it. I shouldn’t complain too much, because the lack of a sell-out resulted in me and my wife moving to much better seats than we had paid for for about two-thirds of the show. I remark on the attendance to prove a point that Springsteen gives his all and more during every single show, even when the seats aren’t completely filled. He is 66 years old and puts on a show with more energy and intensity than acts 40 years younger and he feeds off of the energy and reactions of the crowd superbly. Despite the arena not being sold out those who were there were among the E Street faithful.
From the moment Springsteen and the band started into “Meet Me in the City” we knew we were going to be in for quite a ride. When an act decides to perform an entire album, let alone a large double album, from start-to-finish you probably should expect some ebbs and flows throughout the show, but through Springsteen’s intensity and the fact that there isn’t a single weak song of the bunch on The River this was never felt.
That’s not to say I didn’t have favorite performances from this portion of the show. Binging the entire album non-stop for much of the two months between purchasing tickets and the show allowed me to develop relationships with certain songs that instantly became favorites during the show like “Independence Day,” “Fade Away,” “Stolen Car” and “Point Blank.” The River is one of Springsteen’s more raucous records with stuff like “I’m a Rocker,” “Ramrod” and “Cadillac Ranch,” which are all amazing to rock out to live, but I definitely found myself smitten more with the slower, more introspective stuff on the album.
That being said, jamming out to stuff like “Two Hearts,” “Hungry Heart” and “Out in the Streets” might be moments that stay in my mind for a longer time. “The River” has always been one of my favorite Springsteen ballads and hearing it live (he didn’t perform it the first time I saw him live in Kansas City in 2012) was a bucket list moment. It’s probably one of my 10 favorite Springsteen tracks period.
The great thing about Springsteen is he knows exactly what his loyal fans want to hear. Many artists who do a tour where they perform a full album, which doesn’t seem to happen frequently, would simply perform the album and maybe do a couple to three hits during an encore and call it a night. That final act I mentioned previously after Springsteen completed The River would have made for a perfect concert set list in its own right. In this final act Springsteen, whose intensity and energy really seemed to rise throughout the show, performed both fan-favorites and some of his most iconic classics in another hour-plus of what amounted to musical heaven. You knew the final act was going to be a potentially life-altering experience when he kicked it off with “Badlands,” something every Springsteen fan loves to rock out screaming at the top of their lungs.
Springsteen followed this with a string of classics like “The Promised Land,” “Because the Night” and “The Rising.” Then came the moment I’d been waiting many years for …
When I saw Springsteen and the E Street Band in Kansas City three-and-a-half years ago it was the greatest concert I’d ever seen and remained that way until Sunday night in Oklahoma City, but it still didn’t feel complete to me. This is because he didn’t perform my all-time favorite song – not just Springsteen song, but song in general – “Thunder Road.”
When I saw him grab a harmonica and step to the mic on Sunday night I knew a moment I’d always hoped to see was about to come true. I’m frankly a little surprised this moment where Springsteen started into that great harmonica opening of the song didn’t make me tear up, but I guess I was having far too much fun to worry about tears. I do wish I had a photograph of the smile on my face at this moment though. “Thunder Road” is a song that’s between four and five minutes long, but it seemed to fly by in the moment. My only regret from the whole night is time couldn’t slow down for just a bit so I could savor the moment just a little longer. But, Springsteen was flying the entire night and when Jake Clemons’ epic saxophone ending to “Thunder Road” launched into the E Street Band doing “Born to Run” I’m surprised the roof of the arena didn’t blow off at that very moment. It was the most electrifying concert moment I’ve ever seen. Thousands of Springsteen lovers in unison screamed “Born to Run” at the top of their lungs, almost as if we all knew at that very moment that life couldn’t possibly ever be better than this.
You would think this would make for a killer concert ender, but it’s almost as if Springsteen was still revving up. “Born to Run” turned into a rip-roaring performance of “Dancing in the Dark,” with four lucky concertgoers – including a father and son – getting to go up on the stage to dance with “The Boss” and the E Street Band. This led into a frantic performance of “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight),” a song every Springsteen loyalist should really hope to see live at some point in their lives and I’m so happy he performed at Oklahoma City, because it’s another he didn’t get to in Kansas City in 2012 as part of his Wrecking Ball Tour. ‘Rosalita’ launched into “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” which has kind of become Springsteen and the E Street Band’s theme song and has taken on more of an importance following the death of long-time saxophonist and Springsteen friend Clarence Clemons in 2011.
What happened next is a moment I’m still not certain as to how didn’t just keel Springsteen over on stage with a heart attack and might in fact prove that he isn’t human when he performed an uproarious version of the Isley Brothers’ classic “Shout,” complete with jumping up and down on stage throughout much of the performance. This was a performance that seemed like it was going to be the show-stopper and honestly should’ve been, but Springsteen seemingly not wanting to leave the stage finished up with a performance of “Bobby Jean,” the lone performance from his iconic 1984 album Born in the U.S.A.
Springsteen and the E Street Band is the perfect mixture of musicians who give their all for every show during every song for more than three hours with a songwriter who seems to be in tune with the feelings and emotions of his fan-base. This combination leaves you feeling like you’re a part of a community, experience, like Springsteen is speaking directly to you even though like-minded brethren are bouncing, dancing, screaming and generally freaking out all around you. It’s something you really have to see and hear and feel not just with your eyes and ears, but also your brain and your heart to truly understand. It’s like an out of body experience set to music and you never ever want it to end.
by Julian Spivey
Randy Travis was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville on Tuesday (March 29) and when he managed to get out the words “thank you” it marked his first public words since a stroke almost took his life and the ability to speak and walk in July of 2013.
Travis might not have as iconic status in country music as artists like Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, George Jones and others, but his importance to country music should not be understated, though it seems it often is just that.
When Randy Travis came along in 1986 with the traditional throwback sound of “On the Other Hand,” his first career No. 1, the country music world was overrun with easy-listening Urban Cowboy-influenced music that no longer sounded like the stuff you would’ve heard from the likes of George Jones or Merle Haggard. It might not feel that bad today compared to the pop, rock and hip-hop influenced sounds that have been ruining country music for five or so years now, but the genre desperately needed to get back to its roots and Travis really helped usher that back into Nashville with a streak from 1986 to 1990 where 11 out of 13 singles he released shot to No. 1 on the Billboard country charts, including classics like “Forever & Ever, Amen,” “I Told You So” and “Hard Rock Bottom of Your Heart.”
There really haven’t been many artists throughout the genre’s history that one could say “helped save country music,” but Travis is one of those artists and that’s why he’s arguably one of the most important artists in the genre’s illustrious history.
Travis helped usher in artists like Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, Clint Black and others who found success with a sound many deemed neo-traditional. New-traditionalists really dominated the genre throughout the ‘90s, before a new wave of pop-influenced country stormed the charts starting around the turn of the new millennium.
There has been a lot of talk for years now about the genre of country music needing to be saved – some arguing whether or not it’s something that’s really even necessary. The genre has always gone through ebbs and flows, but has always come back to something resembling its roots in the past. It’s uncertain whether or not that will happen again, but artists like Chris Stapleton are certainly trying and succeeding in terms of awards, record sales and through critical acclaim, but haven’t seen results on the “good ole boys club” that is country radio.
Stapleton might wind up being the modern Travis, he’s got a terrific traditional voice like Travis and unlike Travis actually writes the majority of his material. He’s a performer come about at the right time, like Travis did 30 years ago, but it’s to be seen if the listeners, record executives and radio programmers are going to be as willing to let tradition back in as they were in the mid-80s. Maybe the genre has been ruined too much to be resurrected?
There may honestly never be another artist with the type of impact on the genre as Travis had in 1986 and the following years. That just hits home the importance of him as an artist and why his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame is really a no-brainer.