The Good Times Never End

Merle Haggard • Are the Good Times Really Over

I grew up in a world few are lucky enough to experience. It was a world of dirt roads and pick up trucks. When Hank Williams Jr. sings the line From North California to South Alabama during A Country Boy Can Survive, he was literally singing about my North California. 4H, FFA, tailgate parties, high school football. Freedom. A time before cell phones. Curfew was the only real restriction. As long as we were home somewhere around midnight, we could get up to any trouble we wanted. We were redneck cinderella’s running home from the Bucking Ball.

That was a different time and a place barely recognizable, though the geography remains the same. Kids are no longer allowed such freedom. You can’t ride your bike all day until you get lost and it’s gotten dark and you go into a perfect stranger’s house to use their phone. Climbing the fence to sneak into the pool at the High School on a blistering hot summer day would never fly. We live in a new world of security cameras and electronic security devices. I am eternally grateful that I grew up before the digital revolution; before Snapchat, Vine, Twitter, and Facebook were around to save a digital copy of every life embarrassment. As nostalgic as I can be at times, I have no desire to preserve my worst moments.

No. the landscape of my youth is endangered to say the least. Gentrification and a post 9/11 mentality have all but obliterated it. The only place I can find my childhood is in a certain style of country music. Outlaw Country. Real Country. Jason Aldean sings the songs of my life. Montgomery Gentry. And, of course, the original Outlaws. Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams Jr., Kris Kristofferson, Merle Haggard. Tricia Yearwood sang, The Song Remembers When in a song of the same title, and truer words were never spoken. The right song and I can close my eyes and go back to that time and that place… I can forget that it doesn’t exist anymore, that I can’t ever go back.

Merle’s death takes me back. Laying on the top deck of a Silverthorn houseboat in Lake Shasta. The water isn’t low like it is now, but meets the tree line. Postcard perfect. It is at least 100˚ but it could be upwards of 110˚. Music floats up from the party below, pleasantly muted. There was a clump of boats together, the party moved from boat to boat. The party was always huge when Merle was in town. He owned Silverthorn at the time. He loved my part of California. I can’t say I was surprised that he passed away there.

I hope he passed knowing what he left behind. Memories. Laughter. Tears. Dancing late at night in bars and honkeytonks from North California to South Alabama and little towns all around this land. Like the others we have so recently lost, Merle Haggard’s death dims yet one more star in the firmament. He asked us if the good times were really over at least 3 decades ago. Merle’s legacy is eternal, so are the good and sad times he sang about.