[dropcap]T[/dropcap]oday, in bumper-to-bumper traffic, my cellphone buzzed. It was my friend, Lanier. She told me Merle Haggard died; she knew I’d care about that. I pulled off the road and turned on the radio. The disc jockey rolled through fourteen hundred of the nicest songs old Haggard ever sang.
But who the hell cares what I have to say about Merle Haggard? I’m a small-town nobody with an ugly truck and a mortgage. And there’s nothing worse than a nobody acting like he’s somebody.
So I’ll tell you about someone who liked Merle Haggard. Somebody you wouldn’t know, unless you lived in my town.
His name was Marcus Buckner. He was a young musician, who never became famous — though he had more talent than all Alabama, Georgia, and Florida combined. Talent so thick and syrupy, it practically slid out his ears and got tangled in his beard.
Marcus played music all over our little region. And whichever instrument anyone handed him, he could strum it, pick it, or pluck it. And if someone would’ve locked Marcus in a cellar with a few bricks, he would’ve learned to play those, too.
You want Merle Haggard tunes? The young fella could rattle off any song you cared to hear. And he played them in a way that would’ve caused the Okie himself to break down.
I once saw Marcus play, “Mama Tried,” followed by a slow rendition of, “Are the Good Times Really Over?” While he sang Merle’s songs, the entire bar fell dead-silent. It was the kind of singing that makes you stare into your beer, thinking, nodding your head in three-quarter time.
The fella on the barstool next to me nearly broke his wrist, applauding. “Geez,” the man said. “That guy’s just as good as Merle.”
It was an understatement, but I let it slide.
Marcus was more than that. He was beautiful, and he had a beautiful family. He also had a metric-ton of something few people in our world ever see. And I’m not talking music. I mean something bright, with no other means of expressing itself but through song, poetry, and art.
Believe me, I’m broken up about Merle Haggard’s death. In fact, I’m playing one of his records right now. But I wish I could see old Merle’s face.
When God introduces him to Marcus.