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The news this week that ex-con country legend Merle Haggard is among this year’s class of Kennedy Center Honorees is a fine excuse, as if any were needed, to revisit his excellent 1995 Fresh Air interview, which host Terry Gross just replayed a couple weeks back.
About 13 minutes in, Hag shows some impressive clairvoyance, gratefully explaining the rationale of the prison inmates who talked him out of joining them on the first successful San Quentin jailbreak in 21 years:
“They felt that I was just an honoree* kid, and could probably make something out of my life. Believe it or not, in the penitentiary, there’s some pretty nice people.”
Notable Hag numbers:
14: The age Hag believes he was when he wrote “If You Want to Be My Woman,” an “Elvis-type rock and roll thing” in the long, noble tradition of songs that couch seduction in terms of commerce. Hag sings at bit of it at 15:35, and though he doesn’t remember all the words, they come back to him at “something equal in return / Don’t look at me like you don’t understand.”
120: The approximate number of days needed to re-acclimate to life on the outside after one is sprung from the joint.
1,500: The number songs Hag estimates he wrote “that weren’t any good, or at least I never kept ’em” before he wrote his first “keeper,” though he may to be contradicting himself here, unless he wrote that many songs before he was fourteen. (Hag’s propensity to contradict himself is 1) evidence he’s a normal human being, and 2) one of the things that make it interesting to read or hear more than one interview with him in your life. That said, it drives some trigger-happy music writers cra-a-azy!)
300, maybe 400: The number of “keepers” Hag figures he was written.
9/20/10: The date of his gig at the Birchmere, which has been sold out for weeks.
*Okay, he said ornery. Why don’t people use that fine word anymore? Is it because it describes the entirety of the Internet?