Apparently, Bob Dylan gave a speech the other night that was generally well received, but made headlines for a couple of digs Mr. Zimmerman directed at some of his musical peers. Dylan said some condescending things about Leiber & Stoller and Tom T. Hall and had this to say about Merle Haggard:
“[He] didn’t even think much of my songs. I know he didn’t. He didn’t say that to me, but I know way back when he didn’t. Buck Owens did, and he recorded some of my early songs,” Dylan said. “Together Again, that’s Buck Owens. And that trumps anything else out of Bakersfield. Buck Owens or Merle Haggard, if you had to have somebody’s blessing, you can figure it out.”
This is a pretty juvenile thing, if you ask me. But who doesn’t like a good manufactured controversy? Alas, Merle did not take the bait.
Bob Dylan I’ve admired your songs since 1964. “Don’t Think Twice” Bob, Willie and I just recorded it on our new album.
— Merle Haggard (@merlehaggard) February 7, 2015
Growing up in the 60s and 70s I remember all the false binaries of the day. The great fault lines: Beatles or Stones, Lennon or McCartney, Ginger or Mary Anne, MARCIA BRADY or LAURIE PARTRIDGE!!!! Was this kind of thinking symptomatic of adolescence or did it have something to do with the era itself? Maybe it is something in Boomer DNA?
One can only speculate what went through Dylan’s mind when he chose to call out the only living songwriter whose body of work eclipses his (and hey, maybe that’s the reason right there). Here’s my blinding glimpse of the obvious for everybody: You don’t have to choose one or the other. You can have your Haggard and Dylan too! Still, it’s a little saddening to have any kind of harsh words between these two Giants of American Song.
Allow me to imagine this dream scenario: Dylan, seeing his words in print and realizing they were a bit harsh, reaches out to Haggard and they make a record together. I see an opportunity here.
While we’re on the subject of the Merle, want to share this fascinating find from a 1972 documentary (terrible quality, alas) featuring Haggard wandering through an abandoned labor camp. What swagger the dude had back then!