With the passing of Merle Haggard yesterday, I’ve been thinking a lot about my love of country music, and what that genre may have to teach us all a little more about life. My parents were born in the Virginia hill country and loved country music, which spoke to them about the problems in their lives. Although much country music is celebratory, the very best of it, I think is found it the sad ballads written by such giants as Hank Williams, Cindy Walker, Johnny Cash,Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, and of course—Merle Haggard. Despite its undeserved reputation as less sophisticated music, I find it remarkable how a simple melody built around three chords can produce such a haunting, beautiful song, but the real key is the lyrics, which is why I am so attracted to this music. If you’ve never been much of a fan, try it in honor of Merle Haggard, and do yourself a favor and go back a ways and listen to some of the older country music. I think it’s better than the new stuff, but then again, that may simply reflect my age.
What does this have to do with healing? Well, next time you’re sad, listen to Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” or listen to Willie sing something by Kristofferson. Or listen to Merle Haggard sing “Today I Started Lovin’ You Again.” Let art sink into your soul, and its magic will be revealed. And, by trying a new genre, you may just discover a little more empathy for people different from yourself. A very valuable thing, indeed. RIP and thanks, Mr. Haggard.