Bakersfield, California 2021-04-24 19:00:00 –
With the death of Gerald Haslam from Oildale earlier this month, I thought of a beautiful coincidence.
It includes creativity, the great mystery of time and place, and the origin of sparks that ignite the creation of art, music and poetry.
Haslam was born on March 18, 1937 and grew up in Oildale. He went on to write an award-winning story about life in the Central Valley, which he called “the other California.”
Nineteen days after Haslam entered the world, another boy was born. His name was Merle Hagard. Although his childhood was less than ideal, especially after his father’s death, he became one of the most respected singer-songwriters in the history of American music.
Barely two years later, on May 27, 1939, Frank Bidart was born in Bakersfield. Vidart, the son of a potato farmer in Kern County, described Nobel Prize-winning Louise Glück as “difficult to overestimate” the importance of Vidart’s poetry, and the poet himself “important in our time.” One of the people. “
Eighty years later, country music legend Merle Haggard, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Frank Vidart, acclaimed novelist, biographer, and historian Gerald Haslam were born within about two years, each in the metro. It’s amazing to think that it came from Bakersfield. Pursue highly successful creative efforts in three different genres.
Was this just a coincidence, or was there something related to this particular time and place? Was there anything about Bakersfield in the mid-20th century that made these three men more likely to form this holy trinity of music, prose and poetry?
Was there anything that helped these extraordinary artists cause the smoldering fire they had about the mature 1940s and 50s Bakersfield culture?
Or are these questions essentially unanswerable?
Doug Davis, a musician, prolific composer and revered former director of the California State University Bakersfield Jazz Research Program, said:
“Music is often a collaborative event,” he said. “It sometimes has something to do with the society in which you were born.”
Bakersfield’s music scene certainly shows signs of that kind of community energy, Davis said.
Of course, the 1960s were hit after hitting New Orleans, the birthplace and incubator of jazz and blues, and Motown with one of the most concentrated examples of creative energy ever generated in popular music. So is Detroit in the 1960s and 70s. ..
“But writing is a very private matter,” Davis said.
Haggard, Haslam, and Bidart achievements cannot be put in a neat box for classification. The paths they follow, the means of expression they choose, and the resulting songs, books, and poems are wonderfully different.
One thing is certain: all three men have somehow recognized the invisible thread that holds them together.
Haslam and Hagard knew each other as children. The prominent letter man and the legendary music man grew up in the same neighborhood in Oildale, both in the fifth grade class of Mrs. Farr at Standard School.
In his book “Workin’Man Blues: Country Music in California,” Haslam calls Hagard the “probably the greatest” genius of the common people in the history of country music.
“I remember him. I knew him. We were friends,” Hagard told the reporter three years before his death.
“He’s a great writer and a talented writer,” Hag said of Haslam.
The late writer and journalist Cary Mack Williams, who wrote “Factories in the Fields” in the mid-1930s, once described Haslam’s writings as “country music prose.”
This may be one of the reasons if Haslam really appreciates Haslam’s writings.
Both men will be enthusiastic observers and distillers of life and culture around them. And the twilight of the area, the desolate landscape of mediocre and hard-working people, led to both Hagard’s song and Haslam’s story.
“Jerry and I, we were looking at life from the same window,” Hagard told the Californians.
“He took one route. I took another.”
After the announcement of the Pulitzer Prize in 2018, I had a long but fun phone conversation with the poet and exchanged some emails.
He said he was happy to be in the same company as Haslam and Hagard. And some of him wanted him to start communicating with Haslam for years.
At Vidart’s request, I told Haslam his best wishes and more.
Haslam, as always, was kind to his reaction.
“The news of Frank’s achievements didn’t really shock me,” Haslam wrote in an email.
“His reputation has been built up with the writing community for years for genuine achievements.”
Haslam praised the early collection of Vidal’s poems, the “Golden State,” and called it “a must-read for California letter students.”
Surprisingly, Haslam knew Vidal when he was young.
“Frank was two years behind Garces [High School]But because we were both involved in forensic medicine and drama [we] Haslam said, “I knew each other a little. He was (obviously) smart and kind to me. Frank was not a joke, and it could be difficult for Garces’ man at the time. Hmm.”
Haslam seemed happy to be on my list with Hagard and Vidal.
“It’s an honor to celebrate Frank’s well-earned achievements, and I’m happy to be listed with Merle and him,” Haslam wrote.
Vidal was also as graceful and enthusiastic as other reporters asked sources.
After he read the profile I wrote about Haslam, Vidal praised the story and shared some thoughts and memories of Haslam.
“It’s creepy to think he (2 years old) was my debate when I was a freshman,” he said of Haslam.
When Haslam stated in his profile that his work remained connected to the valley, Vidal realized that this was in sharp contrast to his own work.
“I noticed my difference as a writer,” he said. “The valley was very important to me, but it was a leap point.”
Forced to explore artistic expression, the three young men of Bakersfield and Oildale embarked on three completely different orbits, yet some form of line, invisible thread, and bond membrane. It is possible that they are tied together.
Bakersfield, as they do, may be their common DNA. The unmistakable ugliness and amazing power of beauty helped shape each.
Reporter Stephen Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @semayerTBC.
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