The Hag: The Life, Times, and Music of Merle Haggard (Book Review)

Though tough, and resourceful, Merle was incredibly vulnerable emotionally. Merle consistently made decisions that hurt him financially, and caused heartache. Unlike the vitriol espoused concerning Merle’s drug usage, Merle did not smoke pot or use drugs at all throughout the 60s, and 70’s. But after the breakup with Bonnie, that changed. Though Merle says that he started smoking pot in the 80’s because the doctor told him to. He also started popping pills, and using cocaine.

At one point, Johnny Cash, and Tammy Wynette were called by one of Merle’s daughters to intervene, and they did. Either would attend Merle’s shows, and sit with him after to keep him away from using cocaine. It worked. Merle was eternally grateful to his friends. When he found out that Johnny was in the hospital nearing his end, Merle snuck in, and spoke to Johnny, who was still coherent. They had a good laugh. Johnny died a month later.

There was too much heartache in Merle’s life, which explains why he sang with so much conviction, and heart. The whole drug thing was a way to self medicate.

For example, did you know his oldest daughter gave up her baby for adoption? The father was Tammy Wynette’s husband George Richey.. Did you know that his first wife became pregnant with another man’s child while Merle was in prison? Did you know that Marty Robbins refused to sing a duet with Merle, despite being his opening act?

Not to mention the unconventional arrangements in his marriages, the mismanagement of funds, and how Merle was viewed by some as a bottomless piggy bank. The latter led Merle to filing bankruptcy, but he was able to pull through after selling half of his songwriter royalties to Buck Owens for a pittance. Despite all of these unfortunate situations plus so many more, Merle did not really seem to harbor ill will towards those that slighted him. The only exception being, if you hurt those he truly loved.

There is much to unpack in this book, but there were also some errors that annoyed me.

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