I was thinking about getting old the other day, how quickly it happens – it creeps up on you when you are not looking, old age. People live longer and stay in a much better shape longer than they did a few decades ago. Still, we all get old and our bodies give out little by little. But the angst of aging does not come from that alone; it’s also that our lives change. There’s a time when the surrounding world starts making a little less sense than it used to (I’m there now) and then there’s a time when none of it makes sense anymore (my uncle, according to himself, has been there for a while).
I asked my uncle over Christmas if he was afraid of going senile. Okay, so that sounded a bit funny. Let me provide you with a little context. One of his friends had been diagnosed with dementia and my aunt and I were talking about how difficult it must be for this man’s family. We then were wondering how my uncle felt about his friend falling ill. Well, that and we were also trying to get his mind off something that was upsetting him: his neighbors’ children. According to my uncle, the “rugrats next door” had started their X-Box turns at 07:00 am sharp that morning (it was Boxing Day) and thanks to my uncle’s neighbors’ top notch home theater sound system and what appeared to be an overly-sensitive volume button, he and the other people in the building had been wide awake by 07:02 am.
My uncle’s beef was with the parents. He didn’t understand why they allowed the children to do something like that. In an attempt to remedy the situation, he had knocked on his neighbors' door and given them a piece of his mind in his pajamas. The volume had been turned down but according to him, the whole family’s attitude had been as pleasant as a horse’s ass. Not surprising then that his response to my questions about whether he dreaded going senile was, “No. And the sooner I go senile, the better. What’s the point of being sane when the whole world around me is insane?” My aunt and I laughed but for the first time ever, I actually understood where my uncle was coming from. This instantly made me think of a tune by Merle Haggard called “Wishing All These Old Things Were New.”
Merle Haggard continues to be one of the very few country artists that I keep returning to at regular intervals. The reason for this is obvious: The guy’s bloody brilliant! The commercial peak of his career was between 1966 and 1970. During this time, Haggard scored no less than 24 #1 hits. However, although this part of his career is stacked with incredible tunes, my favorite part is the period between 1970 - 1977, when Haggard began to compose and produce tracks that were slightly more sophisticated in nature. Musically, this was a very rewarding period for Merle, as he began to fuse country music with pop, jazz and big band resulting in songs, such as “Nothing’s Worse Than Losing,” “It’s All In The Movies,” “If We Make It Through September,” “Here In Frisco,” “Life’s Like Poetry,” and “From Graceland to Promised land.”
After the late seventies, Haggard’s output became slightly uneven at times. He was still capable of great work, albums like his 1987 Chill Factor is a great proof of this. However, there were more misses than there were hits both commercially and artistically. This was true especially for the nineties, when for a while, the rumor had it that Haggard was a spent force, a man who had gotten fed up with the industry and sadly, songwriting as well. Well, those rumors were laid to rest for once and for all in 2000, when his absolutely brilliant If I Could Only Fly was released to raving reviews.
Our track of the week, “Wishing All These Old Things Were New,” opens the album in a very powerful way. Like so many other songs on If I Could Only Fly, this track too is about ageing, death and loss. Over a compelling guitar line, reminiscent of Hag’s best work with The Strangers (his backing group in the sixties and seventies) the elderly country icon muses:
Watching while some old friends do a line
Holding back the want to end my own addicted mind
Wishing it was still the thing even I could do
Wishing all these old things were new
Watching while some young men go to jail
And they show it all on TV just to see somebody fail
And I guess there's not a single thing a man like me can do
Wishing all these old things were new
Of course, the regret is not just about missing getting high; it’s about life in general. As we get old, we’re forced to let go of who we once were physically and mentally but most importantly, and perhaps painfully, we have to change our concept of the future. When If I Could Only Fly came out, Merle was 63, far from death’s door but still, looking into the future is a lot different when you are 63 than when you are 23. It’s a hell of a lot longer for the latter and of course, that makes all the difference in the world.
“Wishing All These Old Things Were New” presents an aging Haggard to the world. His voice isn’t what it used to be, his singing is far from effortless but the essence of his voice, the color and the timber, is still there intact. The track itself is brilliant, beautifully written and performed. It’s acoustically driven and has very little on it. Aside from the warm acoustic guitar, fabulous electric guitar licks, tender drums and vocal harmonies, there’s just Merle’s voice and really, this is what makes the track as great as it is. “Wishing All These Old Things Were New” was a return to form for Merle. After years of misguided studio efforts, the man was finally back doing what he did better than anybody else in country music, writing gorgeous melodies and intimate lyrics.
Returning to what my uncle said about going senile and getting old. I actually don’t think aging is all that bad. You see it takes a good while before you are actually truly old, so you might as well enjoy the trip. And even when there’s no denying the fact that you are no spring chicken anymore; look for the humor in it. This week, I will leave you with two famous quotes by two very famous people and yes, you guessed it right, they are about old age. The second one especially is true; I wouldn’t be in constant trouble if it wasn't…and I’m pretty confident that the first one isn’t that far-fetched either.
You know why I feel older? I went to buy sexy underwear and they automatically gift-wrapped it.
– Joan Rivers
By the time, a man is wise enough to watch his step, he is too old to go anywhere.
– Billy Crystal
Track Sponsor Of The Month: Effigy by The Impersonators
“Effigy” describes that moment in all our lives, when we realize that we‘ve grown tired of protecting our ego, that moment when we are done worrying about how we appear to others. Rather than wanting to be cool or important, we want to be happy and discover our true identity. And the best way to achieve this is to kill our ego.
You can learn more about Merle Haggard here:
About the curator - Tommi Tikka
Tom Tikka is a linguist, poet, professional songwriter, recording artist and a music aficionado. He started playing guitar when he was four and writing songs when he was six. Consequently, he doesn't remember a time when he wasn't playing or writing. It's fair to say, music and lyrics are not just something he loves to engage himself in; to him, they are a way of life.