Remembrance of a Branded Man

Merle Haggard passed away one year ago today. This is what I wrote as a memorial to him on my Facebook page:

“I never been nobody’s idol,
but at least I’ve got a title.
And I take a lot of pride in what I am.”

RIP, Merle Haggard.

He was that rare breed of country music performer who was completely authentic, because he lived the life that was in his lyrics. When he sang about prison, he was credible because he’d done time. When he sang about poverty, you believed him because he grew up during the Great Depression. When he excoriated the anti-war crowd, he was persuasive because he was a patriot, in spite of running afoul of the system.

He did not sugar-coat the heartaches and the failures that are so common to the journey of life; as do the country singers of today. He pulled them out from under his bed and revealed them to us, and we all listened together with earnest intensity. We laughed, we loved, we wept and we hoped for something better, because we realized that we were listening to a great teacher who himself had been a tragic student in the school of human pain.

Thank you, Merle, for all you have given to the world of country music. You can go on now, brother, and sing me back home when you get there.

Grab the Domes and Ride

This blog entry is dedicated to all the ladies out there. Clearly, many of you desperately need to read this. I won’t bother with the men, because they already know what I’m about to write here.

I just heard the song, “It’s Different for Girls,” by Dierks Bentley. This little ditty from an artist whom I used to respect is further proof to me that country music is a genre in a state of decline.

But before we get to that, let’s examine the premise of the song by sampling a few of the lyrics:

“She don’t throw any t-shirt on and walk to a bar
She don’t text her friends and say, I gotta get laid tonight
She don’t say, it’s okay, I never loved him anyway
She don’t scroll through her phone just looking for a Band-Aid
It’s different for girls when their hearts get broke
They can’t tape it back together with a whiskey and Coke
They don’t take someone home and act like it’s nothing
They can’t just switch it off every time they feel something
A guy gets drunk with his friends and he might hook up
Fast forward through the pain, pushing back when the tears come on
But it’s different for girls”

The rest of this song continues in the same vein, piling on every cliché and gender-related stereotype in order to paint a picture that girls have it so much harder when it comes to matters of the heart.

I’ve had my share of relationships and break-ups, so I speak with more than a little authority when I call bullshit on this song. What’s more, I think Mr. Bentley knows it’s bullshit. He’s likely a man who’s been hurt by a woman before and he knows what a man’s pain is like. He is also an artist who understands his listener base.

Over the past decade or so, country music has had an increasingly large female audience. This explains the shift in tone from male-centric songs to those in which the emotions of a woman are featured front and center. The reasons aren’t so much a matter of male enlightenment as they are economic. Dierks wants to sell his music, therefore, he wants to give his fans what they want. So, let’s trot out a song that relies on every sexist cliché in the book to boost those sales.

I have no idea who wrote the song and I’m not inclined to spend any energy researching it. It was either a woman who is coming from a place of ignorance where men are concerned, or a man who wanted to spread bullshit like fertilizer in order to put TV dinners in his freezer.

Now, pay attention, ladies. Here’s what you really need to know.

I will start with the caveat that I am only speaking from my own experiences here. The following remarks do contain some generalities. In this age of bathroom wars and gender fluidity, the masculine and feminine concepts seem to be evolving. That said, it still holds true where most modern men are concerned.

When men set foot in the arena of love, they do indeed suffer. They hurt. They bleed. They cry. They carry guilt and regret. They try and fail and often chew on that failure like a well-worn bone in the jaws of a hungry terrier. Where then do women get the idea that men don’t bleed from the prick of love’s needle? The answer is, they get it from men themselves.

When a man breaks up with a woman, he will usually withdraw from her emotionally. The pullback is almost instantaneous. If the man is the one who dumps the woman, he often feels a sense of guilt because he knows he hurt her. If the woman dumps the guy, he feels the pain of rejection; a pain that is deep and real. Either way, he’s not going to be inclined to share his emotions with the person with whom he’s just burned a major emotional bridge.

The reason women operate under the erroneous assumption that men have it easier after a break-up is only because that’s how men want it to look. The song is accurate in that many men often do go out, get drunk, hook up with strangers or casual acquaintances and pretend like everything is alright. But it’s not. Women tend to wear their emotions on their sleeves, while men bury them.

But it’s never as easy as it may seem. Men lie awake at night and struggle with the demons of what might have been. They don’t often go out for coffee with their buddies and maybe cry in public. Instead, they will find someone close who they can trust and they will vent privately. It may be a family member, a close buddy or two or even a gal pal who is an emotional confidant. Whatever the manifestation, guys are far more selective over whom they choose to show their private face of pain to.

Like it or not, ladies, men simply process pain differently than women. Break-ups are very depressing affairs. Women tend to feel sorrow and display it openly. Men tend to feel anger and guilt. Yes, men may go out and bestow their carnal favors on another woman, but it’s usually rebound. Men have an easier time compartmentalizing when it comes to sex. Blame it on biology, or society, or the fact that Mercury is in retrograde. Whatever the reason, men can more easily separate sex from love.

Does that mean they don’t feel love? Hell no! Another harsh fact of life is that men are more selective about whom they fall in love with. Just because many men aren’t as discriminating over their sex partners doesn’t mean they aren’t subject to the most powerful emotion on Earth. Men feel love, but just as it is with the grief over the death of a relationship, so it is with love. Men process it and display it differently.

Several years ago, I was a part of a group of guys. Every so often, we’d hold a guys’ night; beer, cigars, sports, junk food and music. We were comprised of an alpha male jock type, one or two shy, geek types, and one or two more sensitive types. In other words, we were a fair cross-section of manhood.

Inevitably, women would become the focus of conversation. In fact, I’d say women were the main topic more than any other. On the surface, a female eavesdropper would have had her worst stereotypes confirmed. There was much talk of tits, asses, blowjobs, levels of hotness, speculation about moaners versus screamers and more about tits and asses. We would even play a game called, Marry, Fuck or Kill, in which a contestant was given three names, thereby being forced to choose which female he would engage in the three activities sited in the game’s title.

Yes, we were guys being guys and feminism be damned. Yet, if the eavesdropper had listened long enough, she would have heard things come out from beneath the crass surface. Certain women would emerge who would garner a softer approach. Certain names would carry with them a thoughtful pause, followed by a statement such as, “She’s really a sweetheart,” or “I’d take her home to Mom.”

One guy (the jock type) connected with a woman who was special in his eyes. Yes, we all heard about how impressive her bust size was, but it was clear from his tone of voice that she was more than just a casual conquest. She had taken out real estate in the domain of his heart. Today, he’s living with her. They may make it and they may not. My crystal ball is broken just now. But I will tell you this. If their relationship does meet its demise, he will be the poster boy for the guy in Dierks’ song. He may get drunk with his buddies, smoke a few bowls and bang a few women for comfort. Yet, when he takes a breather from his coping mechanism, she will be waiting for him in the night. No man escapes unscathed.

Another guy in the group (the loveable geek type), was relatively inexperienced in the sexual realm, yet he loved to fixate on a woman’s breasts. This makes him similar to 99.9 percent of men on the planet. He is now in a serious relationship. If it were to fail, he would be devastated. You wouldn’t catch him going to a support group for comfort. He’d just go home and sob into his pillow with a few empty beer cans strewn over his bedroom floor.

Then, there was the smooth-talking salesman type of the group. He was married for a while, but ran into the airplane propeller of divorce a couple of years ago. He chooses to be more open and expressive about his struggles with depression than the rest of us do. Yet, I’m pretty sure he doesn’t go out and get trashed and bang random women from the bar. Some would argue that they are better off divorced. This may be true, but no one can tell me that the parting did not take a major toll on him.

Then, there’s me. I’ve been through too many relationships. I’ve had serious ones in which I was sure I’d get married. I’ve had relationships that were more casual. I’ve had one or two that felt more like prison; when I got out, I drank in the sweet taste of freedom. Some women I’ve dated have been kind and genuine, some were damaged and some were just bat shit crazy. In the sexual arena, I’ve made passionate love to women, I’ve fucked a few women and I’ve been ambiguous when the sun came up the next day. I’ve approached certain partners with honest intentions and I’ve been less than honorable with one or two. I’ve been with women who went home to visit my folks and I’ve been with a few who required me to shower after they were gone in a futile attempt to wash away the shame. I’ve had relationships that ranged in duration from one night to two years. But all of them had an impact that went beyond the sad confines of this country music depiction of the gender gap.

As I write this, I am struck by an irony. Three of my ex girlfriends are getting married this year. One of them is a recent relationship that I terminated after it became obvious that she was using me as a distraction from her regular boyfriend. From her perspective, I’m a heartless prick who suddenly cut off communication with her for no good reason. From my perspective, she was a less-than-stable person who needed a good laugh and who resorted to subterfuge in order to get it. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? God can sort it out later. Until then, I won’t care if I never encounter her again.

The second woman represented a dark time in my life. I won’t trash talk her, save to say that she is a big part of the reason why I left Nebraska and why I took up cigar smoking as a full time vice. We don’t speak anymore and I’m fine with that, but I do wish her well and hope her future husband treats her well.

The third ex girlfriend slated for the altar is one of my closest friends. We dated for two years and they were often tumultuous, but I don’t regret a single day. We have shared much laughter, many tears and a lot of vulnerability. The passionate intensity of our sexual encounters were matched by those of our fights, but we weathered the various storms and have a strong friendship because of it. It will be my honor to watch her get married to a guy who is true, honest and worthy of her.

Sidebar: After our break-up, she dedicated the song, “Insensitive,” by Jann Arden, to me. This song carries more emotional credibility than the Dierks song because it comes from the female perspective after a break-up. She played it for me and I exploded like a virgin getting a tug by a hand other than his own. We talked it over and came to a better understanding about the grief and pain that the other person was experiencing.

These were three separate relationships that garnered three separate reactions. At no time did I ever grieve over any of these women by getting drunk and hooking up with random chicks. Does that make me an abnormal man? Oh well.

But what about the other side of the coin? If the lyrics of this farcical tune are to be believed, women never grieve the loss of their men by drinking and screwing. Again, I call bullshit. I know women who lie, cheat, drink and spread their favors around like promises at a campaign rally. Are they abnormal women? Oh well.

Seriously…haven’t any of you ladies ever reading this ever sat around over a few margaritas and played MFK? Be honest.

You never hear them anymore, but men in the country music genre used to be sad. Their hearts used to break over lost love and what might have been. You don’t even have to go back to the days of Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard to hear men cry over a broken heart. Try some vintage George Strait, Randy Travis, Alan Jackson, Vince Gill or Steve Wariner. In my opinion, the ultimate break-up song from the male perspective is, “The Lights are On (But Nobody’s Home)” by Clint Black. It is the perfect illustration of a man who is clearly depressed by a failed relationship, but who hides it behind the façade of normalcy.

I had lunch with a former coworker and I told her I was writing a blog rant about this stupid song. “I love that song!” she said as we pulled into Wendy’s. I smiled to myself. She loves modern country music. I hope she reads this and finds it instructive.

Ladies, if you want to enjoy this song by Dierks Bentley, more power to you. You may crank it up loud, give a great big “huzzah!” to Mother Wicca and go to bed with a smile on your face. But you’re dead wrong. I know Mr. Bentley is offering a musical placebo that eases your pain, anger or frustration through the application of simplicity, but men ain’t that simple. There are men who are honest, noble and who puke after one shot. There are women who lie, cheat and do coke out of a man’s naval. Sleep on that.

I was just about to post this when Rosie walked into the control room. I give her a 7/10 on the hotness scale.

Marty, if you read that, ignore it. I give you 26/10 on the hotness scale.


Folks, while I figure out how to dig myself out of this hole, go YouTube Clint Black.


Several female friends read this and wanted me to clarify that not all women buy into the line of BS that Dierks and company are selling. Consider the point made. Yet, my original argument about the decline of country music stands. The themes have changed over the years, largely due to marketing toward a certain kind of female listener. I’m not saying all women…just some.

This addendum is your wedding gift, Alicia. Congratulations!

Echoes of a Tequila Sunrise

Many people born in the second half of the 20th century would tell you that The Beatles are the greatest rock ‘n;’ roll band of all time. I sharply disagree. I’m one of a rare breed who thinks John, Paul and their merry band of blokes were vastly overrated. Others might argue that The Doors were the most innovative band. I like “Light My Fire” as much as the next guy, but a little bit of Jim Morrison goes a long way.

Those born after 1975 could claim that Metallica represents the pinnacle of rock/metal. Me…I think that the thunderous power chords and James Hetfield’s growling vocals are merely the mask that covers for a bunch of crybabies.

Led Zeppelin. Aerosmith. The Rolling Stones. Van Halen. Cream. You could make a case that any one of them might be the greatest band of the 20th century. Music is subjective and interpretive. No one is really right or wrong. They all have excellent resumes to pedal.

For my money, the best band of the late 20th century is The Eagles. God bless the late, great Glenn Frey!

When I was in college back in the ‘90’s, you would hear an eclectic mishmash of music floating down the hallway. We all had Mariah Carey, Counting Crows, Garth Brooks, Ace of Base, Nirvana, the soundtrack of The Lion King and a lot of other stuff in our CD players. But, almost without exception, every guy on our floor had a copy of The Eagles’ Greatest Hits somewhere in their room or car. There’s a reason why it is the bestselling album of all time in the U.S. I got both volumes as a birthday gift from a woman who is now passed on. The Eagles ushered me into my college-born love of classic rock.

The Eagles are distinctly American. That’s not a criticism; quite the opposite. Critics derided them for being, “slick,” and “Unadventurous.” As usual, critics often miss the forest for the trees. The band represented, not just the pinnacle of American music, but the best of what human beings can achieve when the proper chemistry is at play.

Neither Glenn Frey or Don Henley were particularly good singers. They never would have made the final cut on The Voice or American Idol; at least, not without a generous helping of autotuning. But when their harmonies kick in with the rest of the guys, I still get a slight chill. Listen to “Lyin’ Eyes,” or “One of These Nights,” and tell me I’m wrong.

Their group vocals, plus the guitars of Frey and Bernie Leadon (later Don Felder and Joe Walsh), the percussion work of Don Henley and the bass underpinnings of Randy Meisner (later Timothy B. Schmit) are never overblown or gaudy in the vein of more high-energy rock stars. Rather, they typified the laid-back emotional feel of the southern California sound circa 1971. Their lyrics were simple, but never simplistic. Their sentiments have a way of sneaking up on you, delivering relatable messages without being conspicuous.

The Eagles are accessible to a wide audience. Whether you like hard rock, soft rock, country, blues, progressive rock or bluegrass, they have something that will appeal to your ear. As proof, I offer you two tracks from their 1994 revival album, Hell Freezes Over. Play “Get Over It,” and “Love Will Keep Us Alive,” back to back. The former reverberated again on again on many rock and metal stations, while the latter was heard on easy-listening radio in many a doctor’s waiting room and in the aisles of the grocery store.

The biography of The Eagles plays out like any other celebrity rock band in recent times. The band forms, has moderate success, tweaks their style, has more success, starts to win awards and is soon famous worldwide. Then, egos grow, tempers flare, agendas clash, members leave, new members come in, members get into a physical altercation and the group disbands with promises that hell will freeze over before they reunite.

Decades later, tempers cool, egos shrink, solo careers blossom and wither, many members go broke and suddenly, the reunion tour is on. From all public appearances, Glenn Frey mended fences with Don Henley and the rest of the guys before he left. That’s a lesson we could all take to heart.

As to the true meaning of Hotel California, we will never know until we get to where Glenn is now. Don Henley claims it is about American excesses, but I think he’s full of cowflop. He’s just trying to attach his political agenda to something that can’t rationally be explained by anyone in a sober frame of mind. It will be one of those eternal mysteries, right up there with the true meaning of “Lucy in the Sky (With Diamonds.), the real location of the Malaysian Airliner and how much Donald Trump paid for his toupee.

Rest in peace, Glenn. Thank you for the musical memories. Take it easy, brother.