"If a song actually had an opinion, that's the first thing they'd throw in the trash."
Merle Haggard -- the author and singer of countless country classics, from "Mama Tried" to "Workin' Man Blues" -- has long been known as the poet of the common man. Or, as he tells us: "I'm the poor man's Alan Greenspan." Having survived San Quentin, heart surgery, divorce, road life, record label troubles and the IRS, the septuagenarian from Oildale, Calif., is still making music: There was an album and tour this year with fellow Country Music Hall of Famers Ray Price and Willie Nelson -- and last week Haggard released "The Bluegrass Sessions." It's the first foray into bluegrass for the honky-tonk hero who helped pioneer country's Bakersfield sound.
-- J. Freedom du Lac
You turned 70 in April. Given your earlier hell-raising, hard-living ways, did you ever wonder whether you'd be around at this age -- let alone writing and recording and touring regularly?
Well, I'm just glad to be here. As to how I got here, I'm not sure.
Do you consider yourself a poet?
No. But a lot of things I write don't have melodies, and I guess that makes you a poet.
In the new "What Happened?" you wonder where America went. Any theories?
In the last 10 years, we've lost most of what we claim to be fighting for. We have a police state -- helicopters flying above houses, looking to see if they can see some marijuana. America has gone downhill.
You're not shy about expressing your political opinions, are you?
I should be. I got a family, and there's somebody liable to kill me. But it's still a free country -- to a point. You can't really say a lot of things nowadays or somebody in a helicopter might come down a rope on you.
If country radio still had you in regular rotation, would there have been a Dixie Chicks-style backlash when you sang, "Let's get out of Iraq/And get back on track"?