Okie from Muskogee

Merle Haggard, 1969

What is an "Okie"? Oklahoman. Why was the singer so proud of being an Okie? What was happening in 1969 that inspired this song? Vietnam War protests, hippie culture. Who isn't living right, according to this song?

Make a chart with two columns: "Us" and "Them." List lines from the song that make or imply comparisons between "them" and "us."

 
Us Them
We like living right and being free Smoke marijuana
White lightening Take trips on LSD
Pitch woo, hold hands "Party out of loving" (Love-ins)
  Long and shaggy hair
Leather boots for men Beads and Roman sandals
Respect college dean; football roughest thing on campus No respect for college dean; riot violence demonstration
Wave old Glory at courthouse Burn draft cards at courthouse

Which seem like legitimate comparisons? Respect for dean, not protesting. Which seem petty? Boots better than sandals. Which are double standards? White lightning better than drugs.

Who is the audience for this song? Why do we sing to "convince" the people who think like we do?

What happened in the 1970s as these divisions grew? More riots, political unrest. Who suffered the brunt of these divisions? Returning vets.

What general cultural, political, and policy disagreements exist today between rural and urban, coasts and Midwest, north and south?

"Okie from Muskogee" performed by Merle Haggard. Available on iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube.

 

For more information on Merle Haggard, visit his official website.

Rights have not been secured to reprint the words for this song. Please consult this online source:

http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/merlehaggard/
okiefrommuskogee.html

Merle Haggard was born in 1937 in a converted boxcar in Bakersfield, California, where his parents had migrated to escape the dust bowl. To support himself, Haggard took on unskilled jobs working in oil fields, hay fields and as a short-order cook. He was serving time in jail for armed robbery done to support his four children when he attended a Johnny Cash prison concert that inspired him to join the prison band. His prison term only added to his appeal and his first national hit, "Sing a Sad Song," came soon after his release in 1963.

Sheet music cover for "Okie from Muskogee."

Merle Haggard was born in 1937 in a boxcar that his father converted into a mobile home in Bakersfield, California. His parents had migrated there to escape the Dust Bowl. As he grew older, Haggard took on jobs working in oil fields, hay fields, and as a short-order cook. He was serving time in jail for armed robbery when he attended a Johnny Cash prison concert that inspired him to join the prison band. His first national hit, “Sing a Sad Song,” came soon after his release in 1963. His history of crime and incarceration only added to his appeal, casting him as a “bad boy” of country music like Cash.

He composed “Okie from Muskogee” in 1969. His first attempt at social commentary, it made him visible to the entire public, not just country music fans. As a retort to the “hippy” generation, this song immediately endeared him to the “establishment,” especially President Nixon, who declared Haggard his favorite country singer. Ronald Reagan, then Governor of California, granted him a pardon. Ironically, Johnny Cash, the icon of country music, refused to perform the song at the White House, while Phil Ochs, a popular performer of the “underground” youth culture, sang it to annoy his fans.

Haggard wrote other songs dealing with social events. He criticized anti-Vietnam War demonstrators more directly in “The Fightin’ Side Of Me” (1968) and addressed the plight of the American farmer in “Amber Waves of Grain” (1990). With over sixty-five albums, Haggard is one of the most prolific country music writers. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1994.

Find Muskogee, Oklahoma, on the map. Find San Francisco, the center of hippie counterculture. Research these places. What generalizations and stereotypes exist about these places and their cultural and social values? Do you think these generalizations accurately reflect the communities and people who live there? Do you think Haggard’s generalizations about people are accurate and fair?