|July 9th, 2012||#1|
#1 Country Music Thread: Analyzing Merle Haggard's "Mama Tried"
This is one of the more famous and I think greater country songs. A popular bar song and a real work of art.
Tell me why this song is great in relation to the shit called country today.
How would this song be different in lyrics and meaning if, for example, it was filtered through Keith Urban?
In general, what strikes you about this song? Feel free to pull in any background knowledge you may have.
I have of course answers for all the above; I want to see if someone can come up with more or better than I have (been debating with someone about this the last two hours).
What does this song mean? What does the artist intend to get across, and how successfully does he do it? I'm not talking about the musical aspects so much as the lyrical content; we'll stipulate to Haggard being a great singer and guitar player, as far as my ears know. But what does he mean by this song.
Remember, interpretations are no more equal than men are.
What in this song speaks to all of us?
What is the artist's attitude toward his imprisonment? Toward his mother? Toward himself?
Enough English teacher questions, let's see if any of you pukes can get it right.
Last edited by Alex Linder; July 9th, 2012 at 08:32 PM.
|July 9th, 2012||#3|
Join Date: Nov 2011
Location: The Heart of Dixie
|July 9th, 2012||#4|
I'm not sure how similar the message is to "Simple Man" other than in both a parent offers advice.
|July 9th, 2012||#5|
Join Date: Nov 2011
Location: The Heart of Dixie
Haggard's song seems to speak of predestination, of a resignation to inescapable fate; an awareness of an inherent personal flaw that the best of guidance could not steer him clear of.
Last edited by Steven L. Akins; July 9th, 2012 at 08:53 PM.
|July 9th, 2012||#6|
Maybe people here don't enjoy microanalyzing things, but the you know who's are famous for it, and I think it's why they usually win. They pay attention to things, and come to understand them better than they understand themselves, perhaps, which allows remarkable feats of mimicry, such as "Tomorrow Belongs to Me," which is Germaner than Germans could do, and perfectly plausible as a nationalist hym - but written by two queer jews.
But let's not depart from the Haggard song.
I think one of the most striking things about it is what he in my view rather pointedly, rather sycopatedly, does not say. Stuff he almost surely would say if this song were written in 2012 by a committee of song manufacturers.
|July 9th, 2012||#7|
Join Date: Mar 2009
|July 10th, 2012||#8|
Join Date: Jul 2005
Isn't it strange that we talk least about the things we think about most?
We cannot allow the natural passions and prejudices of other peoples
to lead our country to destruction.
-Charles A. Lindbergh
|July 10th, 2012||#9|
Join Date: Dec 2010
It seems to be a song about a man who committed murder then went to prison before his 21th birthday. The song writer never says what the crime was, but I think it is understood that a person only gets life in prison without parole for killing someone, but the crime is not described so it is still up for interpretation. Doing this, means that the song can have imputed meaning from the listener and therefore have an appeal to many low-class Whites with a criminal background (which is the target audience).
|July 10th, 2012||#10|
Join Date: Feb 2011
The six characters in this song, first person narrator and the person he killed, Mamma, Daddy, and jesus and lastly the listener. The listener being witness to the telling of the story, the listener being a latent jury. It could also be implied that since he is doing life in prison that the for the narrator to have an audience that being the listener, the receiver of his words, the listener by proximity is in fact incarcerated as well.
The underlying current to this story references what has been referred to as the most romantic piece of fiction ever written. The bible. This is the determinate that defines right or wrong in this narration. After all, his killing someone could just as well been considered heroic or justified under a different set of definitions. Christian law is the constant in this narration.
The characters are introduced, the problem is introduced, the characters are revealed by means for which they react and resolve the problem. The focal point character is the one who changes the most as a result of having resolved/reacted in relation to the problem.
So, who changed the most as a result of the narrator deviating x-ian law.
|July 10th, 2012||#11|
Join Date: Nov 2006
No way out but through the jews.
|July 10th, 2012||#12|
Join Date: Nov 2006
Haggard's father was dead. There was lack of authority in his life and he needed a strong hand. His mother was a good woman, but she was the weaker sex and unable to control him. He wanted us to know that while he wasn't the greatest of individuals, himself, his mother was a decent woman who loved him.
Not having an authority figure in his life Haggard descended to hell on earth.
WE CANNOT RESTORE OUR CIVILIZATION WITH OTHER PEOPLE'S BABIES.
The birth of every white baby is the First Born of the next generation.
"Segregation did not exist to hold back other races. It existed to protect us from them." D. Roof
|July 10th, 2012||#13|
|July 10th, 2012||#14|
There is nothing in this song that disputes conventional morality. The singer doesn't say he's in prison unjustly. He doesn't deny responsibility. He says his mother warned. This is all conventional stuff. The song is not about any of what you're talking about.
Two responses, and all I can do is shake my head.
You people are confusing the story in the song with the actual meaning of the song. The singer records the facts - he was a bad seed, apparently, and wound up in prison, but that's not the point of the song.
|July 10th, 2012||#15|
No, this song is not about his mother at all. He merely records the fact that his mother warned him.
And you have no basis whatsoever for concluding that the singer (not precisely the same as Haggard; the song is indeed roughly based on his life, but he did not go to prison for life) went bad because his father was gone, but you have very strong evidence he was born bad - a bad seed. And that even his mother who tried to warn him sensed that from the start. But nowhere does the singer blame his mother or his father. A subtler point is that he doesn't blame himself. But we'll get to that in a moment.
|July 10th, 2012||#16|
Join Date: Nov 2011
Location: The Heart of Dixie
|July 10th, 2012||#17|
All right, here's my analysis. If you can do better or poke holes in mine, feel free. This is a lot more fun than a bunch of dirt-eaters 'lighting crosses' in some stupid cowfield, and more to the political point too.
First, why talk about this? Because we can make some points about great art and how country music has been transformed politically into something neutered and uninteresting. This song is perfect to demonstrate that transformation because it is a classic song, and old song, and a song that superficially seems to celebrate women - as all modern songs (and I mean that almost literally) are forced by some invisible law to do.
What makes this song great art? The simplest answer is not really an analytical answer, but a truth: because in our heads and hearts we have a greatness gong, and this song bangs it hard. We are not here to explain greatness away, but to celebrate it. This song is just great to listen to, and it has deep meaning, at least to those who can understand it, which is apparently about one in five. I guess the rest just enjoy it on the surface, for the melody. Which is fine, if pathetic. Didn't any of you cowboys ever take honors English? Jesus. P. Christ.
First, we need the lyrics, for easy reference.
Notice the song makes it under 2:30 minutes. That's poetic economy, characteristic of most good country songs. The greatness of the song is the release of tension built up in the first two verses through the dramatic revelation "I turned 21 in prison doing life without parole." Very satisfying.
Here's my chat, considerably edited.
AL: I pass by the country channel, it's all stupid. either about getting laid or sucking up to women, just dumb stuff. Country is faker and narrower than it's ever been, even tho ostensibly broadened by merging with rock to an extent.
GP: The grocery was playing that country stuff for a while it was so whiny and caterwaling i couldnt even tell the words. Not sure if it fits into the lugubrious category but it's bad.
AL: Keith Urban type suck-up-to-women shit is everywhere.
AL: one reason i dont listen
AL: it's all woman-flattering
AL: either talking about how hot they are, or how bad the guy fucked up and lost her
but the women is always right, never wrong.
AL: in the older country, you had the full range of human experience not just PC garbage
AL: the problem is, women dont know any better (most of them lack the taste to know shit art from good art). men do, but they're constrained by the censors, if they want to make a living at it. same as political writing.
AL: country music is supposed to be sad stuff, adult stuff, stuff about losses and regrets. not about 'hotness' or beating oneself up for not letting her follow her dreams. keith urban's stuff is not country music, it's just woman-flattering muzak by a courtier gelding.
AL: yeah objectively the song's story might seem sad, but the tune is upbeat, so ultimately it's just "this is how things are, they cant be otherwise most likely"
AL: Haggard's saying "some men you just cant reach" as in "Cool Hand Luke"
AL: it also corresponds to many men's experience of their mothers and fathers, which makes it universal, not just particular to Merle Haggard. We all struggle with stamping fresh tracks or following guidance and footsteps.
AL: some women don't understand that some people you can't geld, seduce or mold the way you want. that's just how it is. they are hard headed. for bad and for good.
AL: the song is unsentimental, communicates a truth not a lesson. if it were filtered thru Urban, the man would be beating his breast, repenting for all the pain he caused, and whining about how he should have listened to his mother. Haggard keeps a wry and dry eye. At no point does he blame anyone - not even himself - if you pay very carefullest attention. He knows he is legally and formally guilty, but when he says "that leaves only me to blame" he's being faintly humorous because while it's true, and he doesn't deny it, the deeper truth, which is what the song's really about, is that no one is to blame. This is the working out of the nature in question. It was not avoidable, it was ineluctable. Is that really the case? It raises the question. This again is what makes it art and great art. It would be much easier to make this a simple moral fable but the singer does not do that. He recounts the factual truth and leaves it there, which points to the deeper spiritual or biological truth, which is not in line with conventional morality. And it's all done in that beautiful Haggard way, pure Oklahoma, kind of even and dry, like a coachwhip's tail sliding through a cow skull eye socket. Everyone else would have juiced the story up with repentant wails, but he stays high and dry, and that is ultimately more powerful than the conventional religious culmination we'd normally expect.
GP: eh it's a little bit sentimental
AL: it's dry
AL: there is not an oz of "oh god i should have listened and now i repent my evil ways"
AL: there's not an ounce of that.
GP: no i didnt say there was that
AL: it's totally "it had to be this way"
AL: it's about the inevitability of things
AL: certain things
GP: well ppl get different things out of songs.
GP: im saying he is cutting the mother slack
AL: why would the mother need slack? the mother WARNED him. she was RIGHT.
GP: i see it like he was giving her credit but things ended up how they did anyway
GP: umm not really about who was right
AL: but he STILL, even tho he's in prison, isn't saying he could have or should have listened to her, which would be the natural point - but he's pointedly NOT saying that. all he ever says is she TRIED. not even that she was right, or that he repents.
GP: we're just getting different things from it
AL: yeah but as usual i'm right and you're not right.
GP: Im hearing it as the mom
GP: ha of course
AL: notice -
AL: he is affirming SHE was RIGHT
AL: but he is NOT affirming that HE was WRONG
AL: that's, i believe, the point of the song
AL: it HAD to be that way
AL: not one line does he say "i should have listened to her"
AL: he just recounts the truth of the thing
GP: yes but it is NOT completely dispassionate
GP: you may just miss that part
GP: maybe you can't hear it in his voice
GP: you see it as about right wrong and inevitability
GP: A, there isnt a right wrong on this kind of stuff
GP: it's totally subjective
AL: no. she was absolutely and objectively RIGHT that if he kept doing bad shit it would lead him to bad end.
AL: there's no gray there. she was absolutely right.
AL: he's affirming that.
GP: ok but that is not the POINT of the song
GP: that is the tree not the forest
GP: that is what LEADS you to the forest
AL: but the ART and the BRILLIANCE of it is while he acknowledges that he does NOT
affirm that he could have or should have acted differently. That's the syncopation, and that's what raises it above christian shit art.
AL: each party did what it had to. it's just how things are.
AL: what is the point of the song then?
GP: ok well you hear it and enjoy it the way you want to
AL: INTERPRETATIONS, LIKE PEOPLE, ARE NOT EQUAL
GP: i am not going to fight you over some country song
AL: we're not fighing, we're debating
GP: you cant debate the subjective
AL: i want to hear you give a BETTER interpretation of the songwriter's intention than mine
AL: it's not subjective.
AL: not mostly.
AL: most artistic statements have a main meaning
GP: He acknowledges his own failings and choices and doesnt blame her, and not only does he not blame her , he credits her and loves her
AL: and there is some room, but not just free play, that' s a modern crank illiberal notion, that artistic works dont have some basically fixed meaning. they do - if they're any good.
AL: or he wouldn't have written the song period
AL: where do you get that he "loves" her?
AL: where do you get that he thinks he has failed?
GP: the very fact he wrote the song with that title, words, and tone
GP: well if he is in prison
GP: he failed something
GP: one could say it's about self knowledge and acceptance
AL: i think it's about inevitability
GP: im not excluding your interpretation
AL: the artist is saying that "some men you just cant reach." they are going to do what they want. even if you point out what's going to happen, they wont change because they can't.
GP: yes there is a popeye-esque I yam what i yam but there is also some tenderness
AL: does the guy in any line communicate HOW HE FEELS about being in prison? or does he simply record the fact? all the christian-conventional interpretations are sitting there waiting to be inferred but the mattering fact is that none of them is explicitly stated by the singer, who in fact leads those paying attention to believe he has no particular problem with the way things worked out.
GP: A let's not get stuck on this one song shall we? You have a good point with what you got out of it
GP: actually i think you make a good point with your interpretation
GP: i just dont see it as a you win or i win thing
AL: don't placate me. i like arguing this stuff.
GP: it's just how do you win at the subjective
GP: it's not fact
AL: it's NOT subjective.
AL: it really isn't.
AL: the point is, this song if written today would be full of puling about how the guy regrets what he did, he should have listened to his brilliant mother/wife/daughter whatever, she's so wise. And what a fool fool fool he was, cry cry cry.
AL: that is not art. it is tendentious marketing in aural form.
AL: this is art. he is fair to his mother, but he does NOT say OR Imply that he should have listened to her OR COULD HAVE.
GP: there wouldnt be a song like that now
GP: yes you are right on that point
AL: thus inevitability - a creature will do what it does, and nothing will change that.
AL: that must be what haggard intended to say.
AL: he doesnt go into how he should have listened, how sorry he is etc
GP: well you could google it and see if there is an interview, if he did indeed write the original song
AL: there's no MEA CULPA, not a trace of it
AL: no whining. no puling. just dry recording of fact.
GP: well that is where we differ
AL: she said this would happened. it happened. it could not have been different. neither she nor i could have acted differently.
GP: i think he totally owns his own role in it, not inevitable
AL: yes. he's not saying he doesnt deserve to be there. but that's only the surface. the song is about the deeper level.
AL: but i think his attitude IMPLIES that he could not have changed his nature to avoid prison...no matter what his mother said.
AL: i think that's the point of the song.
AL: people are what they are.
AL: they're born to their task, and there's a certain wry inevitability to it all.
AL: women are born to scold and mold, and men, some men, just can't be turned into the right channels. and their mothers aren't to blame, no one is! that's just how they are.
AL: that's what i get from it.
AL: culture vs nature. even love and guidance won't work out necessarily, "some men you just can't reach" - they may be bad seeds, like the singer.
AL: just how it is.
AL: that i take to be the tone: just how it is.
AL: he's kind of making the mature point that he CAN't blame his mother, it's not her fault. when so many DO blame their parents, how they were raised, society.
AL: he takes responsibility, but i sure don't get the sense he thinks it could have been otherwise.
AL: he even says his mom could see he was basically a bad seed!
GP: i would have to actually read the lyrics rather than just listen, but I see the message that YOU are getting from it
GP: but everyone draws from their own experience as well
GP: i get what you are trying to get across to me in using this song as an example of your belief re the song and/or people.
AL: then give me a better interpretation than ive provided, or at least a plausible alternative.
GP: oh gawd you want to deconstruct country songs
AL: not deconstruct
AL: the artist's intent, and how well he succeeded
GP: you'll be disturbed to know the grateful dead and joan baez have covered this song
AL: many have
AL: it's a great song
GP: it sort of makes me think of [X] in prison
GP: though his own real mama didnt try
GP: but it makes me wonder if that would have or in some cases does or does not make a difference
GP: which goes to your theory
GP: (is that convincing enough placating? )
AL: i think that's what it raises: how much effect does nurture have vs nature? in his case, very little
GP: i have wondered many times if X would not have turned out to be a a psycho if he had a real mom the first few years of his life
GP: or if X would have turned out the same
AL: the key is, he says even his mom basically thought he was born that way
AL: she was hoping against hope
GP: well it states he was the outlier in his family
GP: still there is in the song what would be called forshadowing if it was a short story and not condensed
GP: no dad
GP: you say he has no repentance or guilt but "That leaves only me to blame"
GP: is in essence admitting a wrong
GP: or more
GP: there would be no blame if he didnt acknowledge
GP: he wouldnt care
AL: yeah but i find it just a touch wry
GP: there wouldnt be self reflection
AL: if you know haggard, he was anti-hippie, famously so. so he would be very much against blaming parents or society
GP: for example X is not writing songs like this in prison
AL: he's not blaming them, but he's not really blaming himself either, or he would say "i regret" or "i'm sorry." he's basically just showing you a snip of how life really is. but his deeper point is how can you blame something for being what it is, and doing what it does? you can and have to on the social level; but on the deeper level, you really can't.
GP: no away from whether or not he blames his mother
AL: i think that's the main thing: no regret or repent, just this is how i was, and here was the result. my mom predicted it, and she was right.
GP: there's a tiny bit of that
GP: it is not wholly without emotion
AL: he's not blaming ANYONE really. he's just saying because of his own nature, this was the inevitable conclusion. so yes, he's to blame in the ordinary criminal sense, but in the deeper sense, it's just nature taking its course.
AL: i dont think he feels bad about what happened though.
GP: he is blaming someone, he states it
AL: he may regret being in jail, because his freedom is restricted, but i sure dont get the feeling that if they let him out he would change his ways. do you?
AL: no, you're reading it superficially.
GP: no not just in the criminal legal sense
GP: born that way sense
AL: he says "that leaves only me to blame" - is not at all the same thing as blaming oneself, read it carefully. he's being a little wryly humorous there. very tongue in cheek. like, ope, can't blame it on anyone else then (like everybody else does), i guess that leaves only me. but he's having fun. on one level he accepts blame, he's not denying he is LEGALLY guilty, but the larger and main point of the song is...there is no blame. it's just the nature of things working itself out.
GP: the foreshadowing is in the beginning lines
AL: he's not trying to avoid literal blame, he knows he is literally and legally guilty,
GP: hearing the train and wanting freedom
AL: but he doesn't regret what he did, he's just that way naturally.
AL: he doesn't apologize. he doesn't repent. he doesn't wail about how he should have listened to his mother. none of that. he just acknowledges that she was right.
AL: but he never says he was wrong.
AL: he does not repent his actions.
GP: this song is obviously written from the POV of someone no longer 21, but years later is musing about it
AL: really? it's not obvious to me.
AL: he may well be 21 for all i can tell.
GP: when you are recounting things going that far back it is prob from the persepctive of someone older than 21
GP: he's looking back
GP: 21 year olds are not usually that big on reflection
AL: i see it as more like he was running fast and wild, and prison has given him the chance to reflect, and this is him singing the results. he could be 21 or 41, same difference.
AL: yeah but people in prison are!
AL: prison forced him to slow his roll, and this song is the result
GP: how old was haggard in 68
AL: no idea
GP: 31 when he wrote that
GP: born 1937
AL: born in 37
GP: wiki on the song http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mama_Tried_%28song%29
AL: In Mama Tried, Haggard focuses on the pain and suffering he caused his own mother by being incarcerated in 1957 in San Quentin.
AL: um...i dont see that at all
AL: the focus is on his NOT LISTENING
AL: not her pain
GP: he mentions her pleading
GP: and says 'rest his soul' for his father
AL: yeah but you have to infer that he caused her pain, he doesnt say so
AL: it's more about him not listening because that's what he was, a born rebel
GP: the born to be wild of country lol
AL: if it were on her pain, he would have apologized. which he very pointedly does not do.
AL: he does not repent at any point. or apologize.
AL: it's purely factual reporting - she said this would happen, she was right, (je regrete rien), it could not have been otherwise
AL: that's how i see it.
GP: here's haggard's take
GP: Haggard, who helped create the famous Bakersfield Sound, has recorded 38 No. 1 hits, including "I'm a Lonesome Fugitive," "Mama Tried" and "You Take Me For Granted." In 1994, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Five years later, he would receive a Grammy Hall of Fame Award for "Mama Tried," his famous honky-tonk tune about a mother's suffering after her son is sentenced to life in prison.
AL: it's not about his mother's suffering, that's a typical PC NPR take on it. you can infer she suffered if you like, but there's not a word about it in the song, which is about the singer and his character or nature, not his mother or father. the lyrics also show that she more or less knew he was destined to end up that way, so how much suffering could she really have had? she would have been resigned. the song is not about the mother's suffering, that interpretation is flat wrong.
GP: That song, he tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross, was about "97 percent" autobiographical.
"Some things we fudged on slightly to make it rhyme, but the majority of it's pretty accurate, I guess," Haggard says. "I was probably the most incorrigible child you could ever meet. I was already on the way to prison before I realized it, actually. I was really kind of a screw-up.
AL: yeah it's based on his life but not factual
AL: in the sense of 'life wtihout parole'
AL: the point is he was not amenable to outside influence
AL: and HE DOES NOT APOLOGIZE FOR IT
AL: NOR DOES HE REPENT IT
GP: why do you keep hammering away at this?
GP: who are you trrying to convince?
AL: he acknowledges the cost...he acknowledges he was warned...but he very definitely implies it could not have been otherwise because of his nature
GP: looks like easy to play on the guitar http://www.classic-country-song-lyri...icschords.html
AL: i'm going to run a thread on this on forum
AL: yeah it probably is. a lot of fun to sing too
AL: a great bar song
GP: you want biology is destiny always
GP: or at least for this
GP: you're not really going to have a thread on this
AL: i'm not sure the guy couldn't change, but he had to have his head beat in by reality to do it. and it was too late - no parole.
AL: yes i am
GP: these days they would say the kid had oppositional defiant disorder or conduct disorder
GP: or something along those lines
GP: it sucks to be treated like that when you actually aren't though
GP: well that should be interesting to see if people post in reply to that 'yep, i'm a bad seed too!' 'oh me too', 'me three' 'no, im more corrupt ,no im more evil than you" when in reality, people who actually were probably wouldn't show up
Last edited by Alex Linder; July 10th, 2012 at 04:27 PM.
|July 10th, 2012||#18|
Join Date: Feb 2011
Your original POV was to engage us to pick apart this song, to deconstruct like the jew, and find the prize that is hiding in your own mind and realm of interpretation. Well then, I deconstructed and broke down the parts and characters in manner that would be acceptable in the college environment. What special relation you have on a personal level with this narrative is that of your own. If there is some secret about this song that is going to save us all, some secret only you are privileged to, then please tell, do share. We are desperate.
|July 10th, 2012||#19|
It leads back to inevitability, and also that good and bad are merely legal/social/moral conventions; the deeper biological reality is good/bad aren't really separable, they're the same thing.
|July 10th, 2012||#20|
Instead of passive-aggressive carping and veiled jew-calling, why don't you either admit I'm right or come up with something better?
|#1, country, music|