Monday, November 24, 2008
Merle Haggard and the Depression of 2008
Are the Good Times Really Over for Good?
I am exactly as old as Merle Haggard, that old "Okie" who tried, at about my age, to take a sleigh ride right back to the good old days "When a buck was still silver/Back when the country was strong/When a man would still work and still could", but:
"Are the good times really over for good?"
Geez, he was singing this back in l985! Thirty- three years ago.
Some prophet, that Okie.
Haggard can be quite a social critic besides a constantly producing songwriter and singer.
"Wish a Ford or a Chevy could still last ten years as it should
Are the good times really over for good?"
For forty years, the country music legend has been kicking ass and making God laugh, and like me in an old codger mood, he don't need no stinkin’ sound check. I am hardly Merle Haggard, but I play music and write by the seat of my pants. After ten years on the road and three million words in print, I'm a lot like my sometime hero who once and again tries to be Babe Ruth, trying to repeat a great moment at the plate.
So I am a litle like blogger Walking Man, who really longs for the days in his thirties, when a man worked in grease, was proud of it, and had never felt better or more the rebel, even after thirty.
And me? Again and again, I am trying, after a bankruptcy (like Merle Haggard’s), to relive that great moment when I got my first column, my own kind of greasy job, which went something like this:
"For the past ten years ,I have been clocking my fellow humans' sprint back to the dark ages..."
Well. It's been thirty-three years now and the dark ages have deepened.
"The captain is out to lunch and the crew has taken over," laments the great alternative comic book man, Robert Crumb, and it's certainly the case with Canada and more specifically Toronto, where last year seven people were gunned down in broad daylight during, of all things a Boxing Day sale, right in front of the Eaton Centre, the very heart of commercialdom. The crew is indeed taking over. The motley crew, and I'm not talking about rock.
The phenomenon goes right back to 1974, where Professor Irwin Thompson, of York University, first noticed, in an Atlantic magazine article, that in North American society, someone had shot the captain and the crew had taken over. One entire generation to see things go completely to hell not only in political Canada, but in a city once known as the world's first truly urban civilization. Marshall McLuhan's pal, Edmund Carpenter said that Toronto was the city of the future, and, sadly, we have gone the way of a Baltimore Ohio on the gangster twenties, and much later, the decaying Sixties. Small wonder that Merle Haggards "Okie from Muskogee" was such a hit.
Those of us just slightly ahead of the Baby Boomers are shaking our heads and seriously longing for the good old days of the Fifties.
But back in l985, Merle Haggard was already wondering, "Are the good timer really over for good?"
They are not really over for good in Edmonton and in Calgary, and even Saskatchewan, but they appear to be numbered here in Toronto, numbered unless we smarten up and get to the root causes of gang warfare with the same zeal we applied in the stupid war against cigarettes. Oh, that they could do, and how thoroughly they did it.
And now the depression, right on time, is upon us.
And a new report in Toronto, now out about the need for doing more for the kids in the Jane Street and Regent Park ghettoes, more outlets for sports, recreation, culture. Otherwise, it' drugs and gangs.
When he was chief of Police, Julian Fantino was thoroughly hamstrung by what is surely stupidity in not realizing that Jamaica, say, has been exporting criminal gangs to Toronto for years. Former Chief Fantino nearly got a handle on it when he visited Kingston to get the lowdown on the gang situation in Toronto from another perspective, but he was the last smart copper. He is now head of the OPP.
So here we are, in dangerous Toronto, listening to old country songs on CHUM 1050, wondering, along with Merle Haggard, "Are the good times really over for good" as we try to shop, try to recover our youth, try for reentry through the wall of time, while "rolling downhill like a snowball headed for hell" and wishing, along with the Ford Motor Company, "that a Ford could still last ten years as it should."
There is doubt the Ford itself can last ten years.
Yes, prophets of coutry music and academe have known it for years. There was no need for the latest multi-million dollar study, soon to be shelved, compiled by fatcat sociologists and lawyers, largely white.. The captain is out to lunch and the crew has taken over. It really took guys like Merly Haggard to early tell the news, a generation before the bureaucrats and economists..
And still we cannot break through the wall.
Cassandras have a way of dying.
You stil alive, Merle?
Somebody already wrote an obituary on you. But I saw you on TV just last night.
Was it on Stephen Colbert's Christmas?
Willie Nelson was certainly there. And even Elvis Costello.
I swear it is the artist and not the sociologist who really knows anything.