December 19

Merle Haggard Shares His Sad Reflections As A Country Star In “Footlights”

In his 1979 track “Footlights,” legendary country singer Merle Haggard got real on what it was like to live the life that most men only dreamed of. He wrote the song as the first track for his album Serving 190 Proof, and Fuzzy and Jimmy Bowen produced it. 

Meaning Behind The Song

As the Country Music Hall of Fame called it, Merle Haggard was arguably the single most influential singer-songwriter in the genre’s history – with the exception of Hank Williams

Music was his sacred calling, and he did it until his death from pneumonia on April 6, 2016, at 79 years old. He spent over five decades out of the seven that he lived writing, singing, and playing music, and his track “Footlights” drew on that hard experience. 

In the song, he admitted that he made his living writing songs and singing them – an enviable life that most men dreamed about. But it wasn’t like that all the time. Sometimes, he had to perform onstage even when the inspiration was gone. 

As Eddie Dean penned in his commentary piece about the song, it was more than just a lament about a midlife crisis. It was a to-hell-with-’em honest “crisis of faith.”

According to Dean, Haggard wrote the song after his boyhood idol, Lefty Frizzell, had died. He received the news just minutes before a concert and had no choice but to play the show. 

He felt like a sellout to the show business fakery, which he put into words in the song as kicking the footlights out and trying to hide the mood he was really in. He even went as far as to say he wouldn’t be putting on his “Instamatic smile.”

He was 41 then and 20 years in the music industry, and he had come to face the fact that music had become just a job for him. 

In a business where everyone was always expected to never falter in front of fans or the camera, writing those lyrics was an act of bravery. But Merle Haggard’s songs had always been like that, and it set his career far apart from the singers not only of his generation but also the next ones. 

Go and have a listen to Merle Haggard’s live performance of “Footlights” below. 


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