Merle Haggard’s Best Quotes of All Time: The Power of Music and Patriotism

by Lauren Boisvert

Merle Haggard was a prolific figure in country music, but his life didn’t start out that way. He lived a troubled youth, born near the end of the Great Depression in Oildale, California, and struggled after his father died. He was incarcerated many times as a young adult, but after a stint in San Quentin in 1960, he decided to turn his life around. Haggard, who had learned to play guitar at age 12, launched a country music career that catapulted him to fame, recognition, and great success. A complete juxtaposition from his early life.

Merle Haggard died on his birthday in 2016 at age 79. Now, we celebrate his outlaw country lifestyle and music with some of his greatest quotes about life, musical trends, and patriotism.

“We need to have music that contributes to the well-being of the spirit.”

Merle Haggard’s music is all about realism; he draws on his experiences as a troubled youth to sing about hopping trains and doing time. His sound was influenced by Bob Wills, Lefty Frizzell, and Hank Williams, but his lyrics were all his own.

While he lived a tough early life, he never let it crush his hope. The entire quote above goes, “We need to have music that contributes to the well-being of the spirit. Music that cradles people’s lives and makes things a little easier. That’s what I try to do, and what I want to do. You don’t want to close the door on hope.”

He drew inspiration from his life for his music about going to jail and feeling like you failed your parents, but there was always a glimmer of a better life in his songs. “Mama Tried” takes the blame off of the speaker’s mother; “Big City” paints a picture of beautiful wide open land; “Are the Good Times Really Over” longs for a simpler time in America.

Most likely, music saved him from a life in and out of prison. He turned his behavior around and used his authenticity and realism to do it. Merle Haggard’s life is a testament to the hope he hung onto.

Other Merle Haggard Quotes on Hope and Music

  • “To be part of what you’re singing about is somewhat painful. You’ve got to climb inside it all.”
  • “I’ll tell you what the public likes more than anything, it’s the most rare commodity in the world – honesty.”
  • “The only thing that I miss lately in all music is somebody that will put out a melody that you can whistle. It doesn’t seem like there’s anything happening like that.”
  • “It’s a wonderful thing to live as long as I have and to be appreciated and, well, just to be here for it.”

“In 1960, when I came out of prison as an ex-convict, I had more freedom under parolee supervision than there’s available…in America right now.”

In the late 1960s, Merle Haggard was unusually pro-Vietnam War. While most artists of the time were steadfastly anti-war, Haggard supported a decidedly American way of life: fighting for freedom, respecting those who do, and staying patriotic even in the face of adversity. He stuck to his guns, no matter what happened in the world around him, and that’s due some respect.

Haggard’s song “Are the Good Times Really Over” really put his views out there for everyone to hear. He sang about times before Elvis and the Beatles, before the Vietnam War and Watergate. “Are we rollin’ down hill like a snowball headed for hell / With no kind of chance for the flag or the Liberty Bell,” he sang.

“Fightin’ Side of Me” also made his views clear; he supported people speaking up for things they believed in, but only if it wasn’t to criticize America. Later in life, Haggard would do just that, though. He disdained at what he perceived America had become, and I believe 2022 would have really shocked him had he lived to see it.

Other Merle Haggard Quotes on Patriotism and the Government

  • “This is America. We’re proud. We’re not afraid of a bunch of terrorists. But this government is all about terror alerts and scaring us at airports. We’re changing the Constitution out of fear. We spend all our time looking up each other’s dresses.”
  • “We are under [government’s] control, and if people don’t realize that, they haven’t looked around. And if they’re not paranoid, they haven’t thought about it.”
  • “I think it’s important that I stay neutral on politics and remain hard to understand. I don’t want to be pigeonholed as conservative, liberal, independent, or anything. I back the man for the things the man believes in, not whether it says “R” or “D” down there beside his name.”

“Willie Nelson’s the one who told me the reason it costs so much to get divorced is because it’s worth it.”

Merle Haggard wasn’t just an ex-con who sang about heartache, America, and the good old times. He also had a sense of humor, and it often came out in conversation during interviews. He often spoke of his families and ex-wives, and of his four divorces. Haggard would also joke about his age, the state of music today, and, in one memorable moment, line dance music.

Merle Haggard’s Sense of Humor

  • “At my age, I don’t buy but a half a loaf of bread, you know?”
  • “If I hear another line dance song I think I’m going to puke.”
  • “My second wife Bonnie Owens and I worked together after we divorced for a period of maybe 20 years. And I managed to stay friends with another wife. And then there’s one that I don’t mess with. Everybody’s got one of those.”

“If I had a choice, and there was a ‘Y’ in the road, I would always take the one that was more fun as opposed to the one that might make me more money.”

Merle Haggard lived a genuine life; he was honest about where he came from, and what he’d been through, and his music always reflected his views and experiences. He had interesting takes on life, and the above quote tells us all we need to know about Merle Haggard.

He loved to have fun and live an authentic life. He may have started out rough, but Merle Haggard turned his entire life around with music. He had strong views, but he also believed in love. “A house without love ain’t a home,” he said. Moments of love, fun, and honesty are crucial to living an authentic, genuine life, and Merle Haggard knew that. He was a tough man, but he had hope, and that’s something to hang onto.