Merle Haggard endorses Obama
- 10-29-2008, 11:23 AM
Merle Haggard endorses Obama
The political wisdom of Merle Haggard: 'It's time for a change'
By Steve Wildsmith
of The Daily Times Staff
If he makes to November -- and, given the fact that he says he cheated death once again last May -- country legend Merle Haggard will help elect the 12th president in his lifetime to lead the nation.
His choice may come as a surprise to some, especially those who take his classic song "Okie From Muskogee," with its anti-hippie rant, to heart and believe Haggard to be a conservative.
"I think Obama's got it," Haggard told The Daily Times this week. "McCain was a hero, and nobody can say nothing bad about him, but we need some fresh ideas, and that's my vote. I vote for the new. I vote for the word change, one way or the other. I'm tired of where we've been for the last eight years."
With politics, music, getting older, Haggard speaks his mind with a gruff candor that's befitting a man of his stature and reputation. After all, he didn't get to where he is today without fording a thousand streams of toil and trouble. He's done hard time, enjoyed good times, penned more No. 1 hits, loved more women and spilled more liquor than most country artists on the radio today ever will in their lifetimes. He's not proud of it all, but he doesn't color a rosy picture out of it all, either.
He simply tells his story, as he's always done through song, and doesn't really care much what folks think.
Given his success and his place as one of the innovators of modern country music, he's earned the right to say what's on his mind. After all, he's one of the old guard -- an artist who sings about the rough times and hard luck that are common themes in country music not just because it sounds hip, but because he's lived it.
After his parents moved to California from Oklahoma during the Great Depression, he started staking out his reputation as one of the purveyors of country music's early-1970s "outlaw" movement at an early age. After his father died when he was 9, his rebellious ways landed him in a juvenile detention center, the first stop in a series of institutions that didn't end until he walked out of prison on parole in 1960, after serving three years of a 15-year sentence for robbery.
He had always shown an affinity for music, since his brother gave him a guitar when he was 12, and he started on a full-time music career before his 1957 arrest. In the joint, he did what he had to do to get by, he said.
"I had a delivery service -- I would buy beer from the guy making it, and I would be involved in getting some of the ingredients, and then I would take it and sell it on the yard in milk cartons," he said. "I was a poor boy; I didn't get no money from the outside, so I made money the honest way, with businesses. I had a loan company, and cigarettes was the denominator -- you gauged your wealth by how many cigarettes you had, and I had 30 cartons and a couple of guitars by the time I came out of there.
"I just gave it all away, because you can't take any of it with you. I did very well as a businessman; I just didn't do very well out here. It didn't follow me into this life. I've had too many divorces, but those are so expensive because they're worth it."
A jailhouse friendship with author and Death Row inmate Caryl Chessman, as well as attending three of Johnny Cash's San Quentin concerts, convinced Haggard to reform himself, and when he got out of prison, he worked odd jobs and found himself at the forefront of the Bakersfield Sound movement.
"I made up my mind that when I got out, I would never break the law again," he said. "It was intentional, but it was also motivated by them bothering me when I wanted to work. I wanted to go to work as a young man, because they didn't offer anything at school I wanted to know. They wouldn't let me alone -- like a lot of things in America right now, there were a lot of laws back then motivating people to do the wrong thing."
After a few minor hits, he was signed to Capitol Records, and in 1966, his second single, "Swinging Doors," was a Top 5 hit. Throughout the late '60s, his success was consistent with songs such as "Mama Tried," "The Bottle Let Me Down," "The Fugitive," "I Threw Away the Rose," "The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde" and 1969's "Okie From Muskogee." Although that song was embraced by conservatives as an anti-hippie anthem, Haggard's politics lean more toward the left these days.
In fact, his 2005 studio album, "Chicago Wind," has two anti-war songs on it, "Where's All the Freedom" and "Rebuild America First." Both songs are lyrically incendiary, with Haggard attacking what he sees as an erosion of basic freedoms in this country.
"There's a big shakedown going on, and people are starting to understand we're under some sort of brainwashing attempt," Haggard said. "We're fixing to paddle into a stream that we've never been in before, one with different problems -- pollution problems, water problems. We're talking about oil today, but tomorrow, we're gonna be talking about water. Clean water; that's what's coming up."
As far as Haggard is concerned, both majority parties are ill-equipped, as a whole, to handle the problems the nation faces. Too much red tape, too many opportunists, too many men intent on getting rich at the expense of everyone else -- those are problems he sees as crippling politics today, and it's one reason he refuses to be affiliated with either party.
"I wouldn't join either party, because both of them piss me off," he said. "I vote for the man for every job and every condition. I have a bit of an advantage on most people in that I know and have the ability to have shaken hands with as many as 5,000 or 6,000 sheriffs in this country. I know them personally, and about 30 percent of them are -- there's just no other word for it -- *******s.
"The other 30 percent are opportunists, and there's about 30 percent who would give their lives for what they believe in. Obama being a Democrat is not the reason I'm voting for him; I'm voting for him because conservatism, in some way or another, is a direct contradiction of freedom."
As outspoken as he is, Haggard said he never considered a career in politics. For one thing, his black sheep past and outlaw reputation would have precluded it. For another, he's been caught up in the grinding gears of the entertainment cog for going-on 50 years, and he's still having to work to pay the bills, he said.
"Music has consumed my life and robbed me of a lot of what I would have done, family-wise, that I never had a chance to do," he said. "I wish I'd have spent more time at home over the last 10 or 15 years. I've worked my ass off, and now the IRS is on me. At 65, I should have shut it off, put a big bird in the newspaper and said, 'I'm gone,' so I could come home and be with my family."
He keeps working, however, and despite what he sees as the sad state of affairs in mainstream country music these days -- he quit listening to it several years ago, he said -- he's fashioned a comfortable deal that will see him release two albums with Wal-Mart, one that will be paired with two live albums in a three-record boxed set due out by the holidays.
Physically, he's felt better than he has in a couple of years, especially since he refused to go under the knife or submit to what he calls "poison" for a spot discovered on his lung back in May. He's got a few projects in the pipeline, but overall, he's a content man.
"I need to build a house -- I've lived in a houseboat for years, and I've got 189 acres with lots of water and a little river on one side and a creek on the other," he said. "I'm helping out with the Merle Haggard film -- we've got a script we're working on, and I've got this first thing with Wal-Mart coming Oct. 1. I'm coming back to East Tennessee, where the people have always been faithful and the fanbase has always remained -- Knoxville is one of my favorite cities in America -- and I'm just extremely happy about being alive and healthy."
Originally published: August 01. 2008 3:01AM
- 10-29-2008, 12:01 PM
- 10-29-2008, 03:23 PM
Young joc, is that a rapper? You might be more concerned about Michelle Bachman deeming you un-American and burning down your house with the latern and torch carrying militia.
10-29-2008, 03:28 PM
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