Your Take: Suffering for the Sake of Art
Earlier this week, Jeff Miers of The Buffalo News wrote a column entitled “Reflecting on tradition vs. trend-hopping in country music,” which was written shortly after attending a Merle Haggard concert.
So why do I have positive feelings for guys and gals like Haggard, when I feel pretty much exactly the opposite about artists including Toby Keith, Jason Aldean and Taylor Swift? I suppose it all comes down to questions of intention on the part of the artist. The true greats in country music history were not attempting to cross over into the realms of pop music, by any means necessary. They were purists, in a way. Like jazz artists who looked down their noses (often wrongly) at those among their peer group who accepted the influences of rock on their genre, the best country artists made sure their music was packed with reverence for its forebears. Not everyone was meant to be able to play it. You had to be good. You had to have suffered a bit.
Miers names Garth Brooks and his “edgeless,” commercial country as the model which current male country stars choose to emulate in their often clichéd, unadventurous, lowest-common-denominator music, which “apes styles, employs signifiers both musical and sartorial, and generally follows a cynically premeditated plan.”
Haggard, on the other hand, used music not as a stepping stone to become famous, but to escape a lifestyle that would have killed him had he kept on that path. His early music was born from an all-too-real desperation that gave his work a depth that is all but absent from today’s radio hits.
[Haggard] is from California, but we’re not talking Hollywood here – he came from rural California. He was pretty much trouble from the first moment his feet hit the ground. He ran afoul of the law, and was in prison. While there, he learned that his wife was pregnant with another man’s child. When he was released, he got a job digging ditches. Literally. His abilities as a songwriter, singer and guitarist quite likely saved his life in a very real way. That tough-as-nails existence informs all of Haggard’s work, the best of which is infused with a profound sadness that is borne with dignity by the singer. When Haggard sings, you believe him. End of story.
We want your take: Does an artist have to suffer for his or her work to be “good,” or to be remembered like Haggard, Hank Williams, and Townes Van Zandt? To be believable?
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