If you’re anything like me, music has been an integral part of your life — especially your life’s milestones and moments.
It was there for your first kiss, your annual father-daughter dance. It marked your walk across the stage at graduation from high school, from college. You chose that one special song to walk the aisle to and from the altar where you exchanged vows with the love of your life.
Your high-school days have a long-running background of songs that make you pump your fist in the air, turn up the volume on the car stereo, or just dance like nobody’s watching.
It even soothed your shattered souls when you lost your first love, had to move from town to town, base to base with your parents’ jobs, or said goodbye to members of your family.
Even more than being a fan, being a musician (to be fair, a jackleg, fair approximation of one) gave me an insight into the passion and emotion that can be poured into a song, and that a well-crafted piece of music can evoke.
In my estimation, very little created today even comes close to the kind of dedication and musicianship shown by two musical giants that we’ve recently lost — Merle Haggard and Prince.
The world is immeasurably less for the loss of these two.
Haggard was a man who approached music the way he approached life — on his own terms. No one would ever accuse him of selling out, even while he was relegated to the dustbin of history so many times by people who thought they knew music better.
Haggard outlasted them. He beat the corporate Nashville weasels and became a legend.
His music was simple, but honest. With three chords, a whiskey voice and his passion for his craft, Haggard could make you happy, sad, cry or holler “yee haw.” Heck, I was proud to be an Okie from Muskogee, and I have never been there.
The songs were also his biography, detailing the hardships and the highs and lows of his life, and I’d bet your back got a little straighter when you heard, “The Fighting Side of Me,” or your feelings welled up with “Mamma Tried” or “Silver Wings.”
Country music was never my thing, but Haggard was the exception — all because he was a consummate musician.
With Prince, he was all about the music, and how he crafted it and more importantly, how he owned it.
And whether or not you feel his songs were the real deal is immaterial: Prince was, and he did it without having to have his ego stroked. His music spoke for itself. If you don’t believe that, then answer this: how many people do you know who haven’t heard a Prince song?
But he wasn’t just a songwriter, he was a masterful guitar and keyboard player. Find a video online of his performance on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and see what musicianship is.
Like Haggard, you’ll find your lighter out and yourself swaying back and forth when “Purple Rain” plays, or singing along “When Doves Cry,” or dancing to “Let’s Go Crazy.”
The corporate-sponsored, machine-driven, autotuned artists that have proliferated the scene can do worse than emulate these two giants.