‘Merle Haggard’ was such a perfect name for an old country singer-songwriter that it’s hard to believe it wasn’t a stage name. But Merle Haggard actually was the birth name of the country music legend who died earlier this week, on his seventy-ninth birthday. Just ponder that for a moment: there once was a baby named Merle Haggard.
To understand Merle Haggard’s origins, The Grapes of Wrath is a good place to start. Jim and Flossie Haggard left Dust Bowl Oklahoma in 1935, after their barn burned down. The Haggards piled their children (there were two at the time) and all their belongings into a 1926 Chevrolet and a homemade trailer and, like the Joads, followed Route 66 all the way to California. They settled in Oildale, across the Kern River from Bakersfield. Jim got a job with the railroad and converted a refrigerated boxcar into a home for his family. There, in 1937, was born the baby they named Merle. That’s right: Merle Haggard was born in a boxcar.
Today is Flannery O’Connor’s birthday. She would have been ninety-one. This year, her birthday falls on Good Friday. It is an altogether appropriate Holy Day for Flannery O’Connor. For Good Friday is the day when grace looks like utter disaster. On Good Friday, the parables run backward: The Kingdom of God is like unto a serial killer that has murdered your whole family and is about to murder you. The Kingdom of God is like unto a Bible salesman who breaks your heart, steals your wooden leg, and leaves you stranded in a hayloft.
The Kingdom of God is like the King of Glory become a man, beaten and stripped and nailed to a cross to die. And you didn’t expect it to end this way, but now you don’t have any reason to expect it to end any other way.
In spite of that, we call this Friday good.
Right in the middle of Slugs & Bugs Sing the Bible, Volume 2 is a song that doesn’t even pretend to be for children. This one is for the parents:
Hear, O Israel—
The Lord your God, the Lord is One.
These commandments that I give to you today
Are to be on your hearts.
Impress them on your children.
Talk about them when you sit at home
And when you walk along the road.
When you lie down.
When you get up.
And when you ride around in your minivan, it could have said. And when you’re fixing lunch, and when you’re tempted to plop the kids down in front of the TV just to get them out of your hair for a little while, is that too much to ask?
Randall Goodgame’s Sing the Bible records don’t just offer up that kind of Scripture-saturation as an ideal to strive for; they create the conditions under which it becomes a reality, even a norm. Since I got my copy of Sing the Bible, Volume 2, my car has become a rolling Scripture sauna, where my kids and I breathe the shared air of word-for-word Bible verses. I say my kids and I, but often it’s my wife and I, or me, myself, and I, because, from a strictly musical standpoint, there is more than enough complexity and wit for a grownup to sink his or her teeth into. Randall talks about making music that the whole family can agree on. With the help of producer Ben Shive, he has created more common ground for families.
At the end of this month, artist Makoto Fujimura will be in Nashville to speak about “the importance of creating and conserving beauty as an antidote to much of our cultural brokenness.” Besides being a brilliant painter, Mako is an important advocate for the arts, especially as they relate to questions of faith.
This event will be hosted by The Trinity Forum, a DC-based organization that works to cultivate networks of leaders whose integrity and vision will renew culture and promote human freedom and flourishing.
I’ve been to several of these Trinity Forum events, and they have all been challenging and encouraging. Your $10 registration fee covers Mako’s talk as well as a pre-talk reception that will feature both outstanding hors d’oeuvres and sparkling conversation.
This video gives a good sense of what Mako is up to:
If you aren’t reading Russ Ramsey’s Behold the King of Glory this Lenten season, you ought to be. It’s the best Lenten devotion I’ve ever seen or heard tell of. Get his Advent devotional, Behold the Lamb of God, and you could be reading Russ 65 days out of the year–that’s 18% of the year! Read him on He Reads Truth, and you can bump up that percentage even higher. Until recently, Russ was my pastor. We were in the same small group when he went through open heart surgery a couple years ago. That experience gave rise to a book on suffering that will be released in 2017.
Hello, Russ, and welcome to Sad Stories Told for Laughs.
Nice to be here.
Just this week you submitted to the publisher a manuscript about suffering.
A lot of it is based on your own health troubles, no?
It’s autobiographical. I use my story as the setting, but the subject reaches to a broader exploration of common things people experience in seasons of affliction.
Often in this series we talk about public embarrassments–stage mishaps, unattended book signings, etc—but today I thought it would be interesting to talk about the humiliations and mortifications that go along with having a body.
You have come to the right guy.
Besides being the author of more than a dozen books and contributing regularly to The Gospel Coalition, Nancy Guthrie is a much sought-after speaker and retreat leader. She and her husband David live in Nashville where, she says, “life is less about professional pursuits than about the ordinary aspects of being a wife, mother, friend, and follower of Jesus, with clothes to wash, e-mails to answer, and a friend to listen to.”
When I caught up with Nancy, she had just returned from a harrowing visit to the sinus surgeon.
How was the appointment?
Well I learned something new—the vagal response. Know what that is?
Is that where you sneeze when you look at a light?
No. It’s when you faint in reaction to a stressful trigger (at least that’s what Wikipedia says since I had to look it up after my doctor left the room).
So you went vagal at this appointment today?
Andrew Peterson usually gets interviewed by publications like CCM Magazine, The Gospel Coalition, and World Magazine. He was kind enough to take a break from talking to respectable journalists in order to tell me about his public humiliations in pursuit of rock and roll stardom and literary greatness.
Welcome, Andrew Peterson, to Sad Stories Told for Laughs.
It’s an honor. I’m ready to bare my soul.
Good. The Rabbit Room readers have come to expect nothing less from my guests.
I’ve read all the other entries in this esteemed series, and I have to say, it’s been encouraging to know I’m not alone. I could relate to all of them–except for Nick Flora’s weird nudist story.
That was weird, wasn’t it?
You were a character yourself in a few of those stories.
I think you were in Jill P’s “Promoter who ran off with the money” story.
Oh, man! That’s the only story I’ve been a part of that got legal. Litigious? Whatever.
I did have the cops show up at a show of mine a long time ago…
Tell us about it.
Eric Peters is a great songwriter (check out his music here). He is also a bibliophile (check out his Bookmole online bookstore/book-finding service), a visual artist (here’s some of his artwork), a history buff, and an amateur ornithologist. He is also a world-class self-deprecator, to the chagrin of the many friends who love him and think he’s brilliant.
Welcome, Eric Peters, to Sad Stories Told for Laughs.
Thanks for the opportunity to humiliate myself.
Your reputation for humiliation precedes you.
Yeah, I’m good at going Eeyore….
One of my favorite Eric Peters stage moments was this fall during the release concert for Andrew Peterson’s Burning Edge of Dawn Record…
Uh oh…I know where this is going.
Doug McKelvey is an exceedingly thoughtful and outlandishly funny author, songwriter, and filmmaker. One of the great pleasures of this year’s Hutchmoot was to see first-hand the joy of people who were exposed to Doug and his work for the first time. His book The Angel Knew Papa and the Dog has just been re-released as an ebook (you can get it here). I also adjure you to check out Subjects with Objects Doug’s collaborative effort with painter Jonathan Richter. And finally, if you want to see some heart-warbling promotional videos, hie thee to the blog at DougMcKelvey.com.
Howdy Doc Rogers.
Welcome to Sad Stories Told for Laughs.
I’m both nervous and honored to be here. And also mystified as to your choice (of me).
Arthur Alligood makes me think of Hank Williams in his ability to take hurt and transform it into something beautiful and soulful and swampy. If you don’t own his album One Silver Needle, you really should. And just this fall he surprised us all with a new album called The Shadow Can’t Have Me. He describes it this way: “These are gospel songs for those in the valley—songs that confess the shattered nature of everything and in the same breath point to a hope that is real and eternal.” With characteristic honesty, Arthur talked with me about some of the mortifying moments of his career as a singer-songwriter.
Thanks, Arthur, for joining me on “Sad Stories Told for Laughs.”
Happy to be here.
In an earlier episode, Nick Flora and I were talking about the different categories of funny performance stories. One of the important categories, we agreed, is the “Odd Venue” category. You once told me about an unusual concert you played at a country club in Atlanta.
I was asked to play a benefit concert of sorts on a Saturday afternoon at this really nice country club in north Atlanta. The promoters told me it was a benefit for orphans in Africa. So, I get there and it’s essentially 10-15 ladies in a room knitting. Seriously knitting. Some of them were using knitting apps—which I didn’t even know existed—to help them stay on track with their stitches or something. I’m not going to lie, it felt a little odd at first.
Hello, Jill, and welcome to Sad Stories Told for Laughs.
Thanks, I think?
As I think you know, the idea here is for you to tell stories of the hardships of being an artists…specifically, hardships involving public embarrassment.
I think my first promotional tour (before my Word record release in 1999) was my intro into challenging shows.
1999? So you were 14? That’s a hard age for anybody.
I was 21, thank you very much. I remember playing at a bookstore of some sort and the young male employee and several older ladies watched me with little interest and crossed arms. He then commented, “Well, she’s OK but she’s no Jennifer Knapp.”
Jennifer Knapp? Is she the one who quit playing Christian music and became Daisy Duke instead?
A week or so ago, Travis Prinzi posted on Facebook a bedtime prayer his young daughter prayed a week or two ago:
God is good, God is great.
Funny things are everywhere.
You need to go to sleep.
There’s a whole worldview in that little prayer.
I am thankful for jokes and funny things. I believe they represent […]
Buddy Greene has been a working musician for over forty years. Like Flannery O’Connor, he hails from Middle Georgia, but unlike Flannery O’Connor, he has spent most of his adult life in Nashville. He first came here to play in Jerry Reed’s band. You remember Jerry Reed, no doubt, from the movie Smokey and the Bandit (he was Snowman). Buddy also toured for many years with the Gaithers.
He is probably best known as a harmonica genius, but he is also a great guitar picker and singer and has released a dozen or more solo albums. For my money, however, the most remarkable thing about Buddy Greene is his joy, which is as apparent in every interaction and obvious on stage. I started to describe Buddy’s joy as “irrepressible,” but in the interview below he speaks very honestly about a time his joy was repressed. Which is to say, he is also an authentic and humble man. Though I don’t see or talk to Buddy all that often, I am encouraged and edified every time I do. I want Buddy Greene to be my mentor, but I don’t really know how to ask him.
Thanks, Buddy, for being on “Sad Stories Told for Laughs.”
I’m glad to be here.
You’ve been performing for a long time. You’ve told me a couple of crazy stories about your early career—including a time you played in my hometown and were glad to get out of the Duck’s Breath Saloon alive. I trust that you find it easier to maintain your dignity now that you’ve been at it four decades. But from time to time do you still experience those moments of mortification that seem to be just a part of life for younger performers who are still trying to establish their careers?
Oh, actually, those moments never stop. They happen so often that I just forget about most of them. But there’s one that I love to recall because it sums up my career. It happened about ten years ago.
Nick Flora has toured for the past 13+ years with many different bands and as a solo artist in every conceivable place that music can be held. And a few inconceivable ones. He also hosts the podcast, “Who Writes this Stuff,” which, I am sorry to report, is coming to the end of its run.
Welcome, Nick Flora, to “Sad Stories Told for Laughs,” a hard-hitting interview series in which artists tell sad stories for the delectation and amusement of Rabbit Room readers.
I have so many laughably sad stories!
Let’s say you play 20 shows. How many of them produce laughably sad stories?
Easily five to seven.
Wow. That’s more than I would have thought.
There are always moments in each show that aren’t great. And then sometimes it’s the whole shebang—the perfect storm.
But are you saying you get five to seven anecdote-worthy atrocities out of every twenty shows?
In my many conversations with artists, I have noticed that a disproportionate number of their anecdotes—and most of their best ones—involve public humiliation. “Sad Stories Told for Laughs” is an interview series in which I ask artists to share their best stories of mortification and humiliation for the edification of Rabbit Room readers. My first guest is Andrew Osenga. Andrew has been making music for a long time, with the Normals (named for his hometown of Normal, Illinois—go Ironmen and Lady Ironmen!), Caedmon’s Call, and as a solo artist. He now has a nine-to-five job as a record executive in Nashville.
Welcome, Andy Osenga, to “Sad Stories Told for Laughs.”
Glad to be here.
Well, let’s get right to it. Have you ever experienced public humiliation?
So many times. As in, are we counting junior high or just professional career?