With The Passage of Time

While toiling away at my desk job every day, I like to keep the day going by listening to the radio in the background.

Generally, I like to stream the oldies country station out of Albuquerque, channel 104.7. It is very comforting to hear familiar music mixed in with ads for local ABQ businesses. It’s also very perplexing for my coworkers, which is an added benefit.

This afternoon while crunching spreadsheets and lobbing emails over the wall, the circa 1969 song “Okie from Muskogee” came on the radio.

Now, as you know, I do love a Merle Haggard song.

For some reason today, instead of just mindlessly singing along, I listened in on the words.

It’s a pretty outdated song by many accounts, yet in some ways still feels relevant.

Take this, for example:

“We don’t let our hair grow long and shaggy/
Like the hippies out in San Francisco do.”

Well, for one thing, long and shaggy hair is commonplace now. It’s actually mainstream.

For another, there’s not any hippies in SF these days. I don’t think the free-love folks from the sixties would even recognize the place anymore. Funny how scads of money tends to move the needle toward conservative, no matter where you are.

That said, that’s still my favorite line in the song. I sang it at the top of my lungs when I saw Merle in concert this summer. The absurdity of singing a line deriding San Francisco while being near San Francisco was just too delicious.

Then there’s this part that has always cracked me up:

“We still wave Old Glory down at the courthouse/
And white lightnin’s still the biggest thrill of all.”

So he’s singing about how being a square is a good thing. About having good clean fun. About waving the flag and being upright and just.

Oh and he’s also singing about drinking an illegal alcohol substance.

Marijuana? No. Moonshine? Just fine.

Am I the only one who finds that just a little…oh I don’t know…ironic?

Plus, I can guarangoddamntee you that Mr. Haggard has sampled of the green stuff. More than once. More than once today.

Merle has said he wrote “Okie from Muskogee” as a protest to the Vietnam protestors. He found them a little hard to take after he’d been released from San Quentin.

Oh wait. So the flag waving good clean fun guy was in prison?

Five different times, actually. Doesn’t that seem…uh…also ironic?

Which makes me remember that the whole song, while conservative and flag waving and a bit chiding in tone is really, actually, all done tongue in cheek.

It’s a bit of a ruse, and a well-done ruse. A Grammy winning poke at society.

And that’s where the title of this post comes into play. With the passage of time, The Hag starts to look a little less like a musical outlaw and a lot more like a musical genius.

Plus he helped me get through a really rough day. Thanks Hag.

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  • Linda

    I always liked that song, too. Also like “The Fighting Side of Me”. Cool!

  • Karen Fayeth

    Linda – You know, every now and again, I do a post that is really just for me. I write about something I adore but I appreciate isn’t in the zone for many of my readers.

    I figured this was one of my self-indulgent posts, my deep love for The Hag isn’t shared by many.

    But then you came along, a fellow Merle fan. Thank you!!!

    And yeah, Fighting Side of Me is a great song!! Silver Wings is still my all time favorite, though.

  • Elise

    I adore Merle’s Silver Wings, and it’s unusual that I ever find a cover of a fave song that I like better than the original, but that is the case re: The Knitters’ (alterego of seminal L.A. punk band X) version of that song. John Doe’s voice is deep and dark like Merle’s, but in that one cut, it has a wistful, sweet quality that Merle lacks. Insanely beautiful. X’s version of Dave Alvin’s Fourth of July is staggering, too. Give both a listen if you can.

  • Karen Fayeth

    Elise – Ooh, I don’t know. I’m usually disappointed by a cover. But I know you have impeccable taste, so I could give The Knitters a try. Thanks!

  • Elise

    Well, keep in mind I’m a serious X fan–always have been. So it’s doubtful I can be completely objective. But they’re both beautifully done covers. You might love them. :-)

  • Karen Fayeth

    Elise – I do like X, but gotta be honest, haven’t listened to them much since the eighties. I believe it’s time to look into that group again.

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