January 14, 2013
Have you ever gone swimming in Merle Haggard's swimming pool in your undies? Because I have...
First of all...I admit that the titillating title of this blog is what probably made you click on the text. For those of you who know me well, you are saying, "there's no way!" Half right. I was approximately five years old and I did, in fact, swim in Merle Haggard's swimming pool in my undies.
Let me backtrack a bit. I spent my formative years living in Bakersfield, California. For those of you who don't know much about Bakersfield, it is home to many country western greats. One of which is Merle Haggard. My dad, who is now retired, was a very well-respected building contractor. (I realize that many of you might call "well-respected" and "contractor" an oxymoron, but he was an anomaly. Ask anyone and they will tell you that Milo Brooks is one of the loveliest most generous guys around) And he was always proud to say that he had the privilege of building Merle Haggard's residence in the early 70's. It overlooked the beautiful Kern River and was, as I recall, a sprawling contemporary design that incorporated an elaborate electric model train system that intertwined throughout the interior of the house. There was also a mysterious bathroom that I was not allowed in, as the wallpaper was deemed "not appropriate for young eyes." (Note to self: Now that I am 46, I need to get my dad on the phone and find out exactly what went on the walls of that bathroom!)
On the day the pool was finished, I happened to be visiting with my mom and into the pool I went on what was likely a scorchingly hot Bakersfield summer day. I had no idea, at the time, who the owner was or the fact that he would later be one of the greatest country western singers our country has ever known.
As an adult, I have followed Merle's career over the years and one thing has continually struck me as interesting. He has always been a simple man who never seemed to seek out the world of celebrity. His early years were peppered with some criminal activity, which probably caused him to find his own why in life. I have often written about our need to find our why before we can move onto being personally and professionally successful at nailing down what and how we want to be remembered in life.
Last year, while living in the Bay Area, I learned that Merle was going to be performing at a small venue in Napa. A short drive from my home in Marin, I bought a single ticket and attended the concert alone. As I looked into the audience, I found the eclectic collection of people very interesting. There was no glaring commonality among those who waited with anticipation for the arrival of the great Merle Haggard, but when he quietly stepped on stage, the feeling was palpable. The whole theater of concertgoers were experiencing a gift. That, I later realized, was the commonality of the audience. A theatre full of people, who came from near and far to glean the authentic message of a great man. There was no great announcement of his arrival, no flashing lights or a fancy stage. He walked on, graciously spoke, and proceeded to give one of the single best concerts I have ever attended. Mostly, because you could feel his overwhelming why as he spoke, as he sang, and as he interacted with those around him in his band. So often today, our entertainers go out of their way to be relevant, larger than life, and do everything in their power to be the next cover story. I would say to them to take a page out of the Merle Haggard handbook and simply find your why in life. If it is authentic and true, you won't need the bells and whistles. They will come because your message will be the catalyst to making you relevant to others.