Singer-songwriter Haggard's autobiography begins with him in the isolation block at San Quentin (listening to neighbor Caryl...



Singer-songwriter Haggard's autobiography begins with him in the isolation block at San Quentin (listening to neighbor Caryl Chessman). And the first--much better--half of the book goes on to tell us just how he got there. In a style that ranges from corny-maudlin (at worst) to folk-song-like (at best), Oklahoma-born Haggard recounts his rotten, droning early years in California: losing his farmer/fisherman Daddy when he was nine (""I didn't understand. I still don't""); truancy, car-""borrowing,"" reform school (escape and recapture); running off to Oregon at 15 to shack up with waitress Dolly (and fending off a neighbor's homosexual advance); beating up a ""slow"" neighborhood kid; petty robberies; marriage to brawling, ""durable"" Leona (lots of kids); an assortment of hated laborer jobs; a few tries at playing in touring bands; nine months in the Ventura County Jail. And, though Merle's Mama kept faith all through it, he just couldn't do right--until he wound up, to his horrified surprise, in San Quentin for burglary . . . and in ""close security"" (just one level below maximum) because of his reform-school escape record. ""I believe I got my life together in spite of prison, maybe even in defiance of it. . . ."" He started taking his music seriously, and though (after nearly three years inside) ""Freedom was a bad dream--just like prison had been,"" Merle very soon got his first recording session and his first hit. Once success arrives, however, Merie's book loses most of its grit and force. There's the breakup of his marriage, his partnership/marriage with Bonnie Owens, and an amicable divorce (Bonnie was bridesmaid at wedding #3), There's his unrequited passion for Dolly Patton. And there are his comments on the music business (the Nashville system ""pisses me off""), on other singers (Glen Campbell could have been ""an all-time legend"" if he hadn't gone commercial), and on his band--The Strangers. So this is a real half-and-half sort of memoir: rough and sometimes grainily eloquent when Merle is a sorry outlaw, pretty much in the for-fans-only department once Merle wins fame and fortune.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1981


Page Count: -

Publisher: Times Books

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1981