Saturday, October 13, 2007

Time Magazine: Does Merle Haggard Speak for America?

Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2007

Does Merle Haggard Speak for America?
By Joe Klein

Merle Haggard has always had his guitar hardwired to the gutbucket pulse of Middle America. Back in the Vietnam era, he seemed the essence of a historic political migration: white males fleeing the feminized, antiwar, politically correct Democratic Party. He was your basic Reagan Democrat, fully loaded with a resonant, iron-edged voice and the ability to write razor lyrics that stuck in the mind and the craw. His brilliant anthem—Okie from Muskogee—became a rallying cry for those who were disgusted by the "hippies out in San Francisco" smoking marijuana and burning draft cards. His next patriotic volley had this chorus: "When they're runnin' down my country, man, you're walkin' on the fightin' side of me." And so when I heard that Haggard had written a song endorsing Hillary Clinton for President, which you can hear him sing on, I was more than curious about the motivation for his apparent left turn. And Merle let me know that he was more than happy to talk politics, given that he has a new album, The Bluegrass Sessions, which seems a political and musical return to his family's Okie and New Deal Democratic roots.

He picked me up at the Holiday Inn in Redding, Calif., a wizened guy in a black T shirt and jeans driving a politically incorrect white Hummer. "Believe it or not, this is a pretty nice little town," he said as we headed out to his ranch, past a bleak, unending landscape of big-box stores that brought to mind a recent Haggard lyric: "Everything Wal-Mart all the time, no more mom and pop five and dimes... What happened, where did America go?" A vague populist annoyance with big stores and big shots is one of the themes that have led Haggard to "change labels," as he told me with a laugh. "The folks don't have a say-so anymore. They're being force-fed—music, yeah, but every other darn thing too. I supported George W. I'm not exactly a liberal. But I know how that Texas thing works, who those oil folks are and what they wanted in Iraq... I'm a born-again Christian too, but the longer I live, the more afraid I get of some of these religious groups that have so much influence on the Republicans and want to tell us how to live our lives."

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