Outlaw Country: Merle Haggard, 1937–2016

HaggardTm Barker at n+1:

IN 2006, I SAW MERLE HAGGARD open for Bob Dylan in Orlando, Florida. I assumed everyone else who had shelled out fifty bucks was there to see Dylan, too. But the group in front of me, after conspicuously enjoying Haggard’s set, got up and left without looking back.

At the time, I was mildly puzzled. Eventually I came to understand the abrupt exit as a minor episode in the conflict which made Merle Haggard famous. In the 1960s, Haggard became known, even to people who never listened to country music, as a singing spokesman for the Silent Majority, the musical equivalent of the “hardhats” who beat up antiwar demonstrators. He was the Bob Dylan of the counter-counterculture. The counterculture responded in kind, like when hip TV comedian Tom Smothers mockingly introduced a Haggard performance while pretending to get high. The kind of people who listened to Dylan were supposed to hate Haggard, and the kind of people who listened to Haggard were supposed to hate the people who listened to Dylan. But the fact that, decades later, he was touring with Dylan suggested there was more to Haggard’s politics than right-wing backlash.

As it turned out, everything about Merle Haggard was confusing. And nothing was more confusing than his 1969 chart topper, “Okie from Muskogee.”

more here.