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Okie From Muskogee

“And so tonight-to you, the great silent majority of my fellow Americans-I ask for your support,” said President Richard Nixon in a November 3, 1969 speech defending his Vietnam policy (Nixon 1), while leaving open the possibility of the war’s quick end with co-operation from Hanoi. “Okie From Muskogee” was already on the country charts, having been recorded in the summer of 1969 and released that September. Both the speech and the song targeted Americans whom writer Tom Brokaw later labeled “The Greatest Generation,” born immediately after World War I, who answered America’s call

during World War II, and who in civilian life quietly went about building lives based on traditional family and community values: waving Old Glory, playing football, in general, living right and being free. Their sons, when America entered the Vietnam war, answered their Okie From Muskogee 2 country’s call. By September 1969, the war had become and endless, directionless, mess. Yet the silent majority, by its silence, told the president they supported his war policies. The song’s lyrics contain humor that even Merle Haggard admits was meant to

be satiric. “I must have been dumb as a rock when I wrote this,” he once said as he introduced the song at a concert (Haggard 1). “We don’t make a party out of lovin,’” he wrote, and that line, while questionable, still reflects the attitudes of the silent majority. References to “white lightning” and “pitching woo,” however, give the song completely away. It’s either hopelessly outdated or deliberately funny, depending on one’s point of view, and one’s age. By the time “Okie From Muskogee” charted, hippies had taken over San Francisco.

Through popular (non-country) music, their values had spread to even the smallest town. The Vietnam war became a target for student protests on even small college campuses. 1968, the year that added the assassinations of Dr. King and Robert Kennedy, was a year in which America seemed to be coming apart. The Greatest Generation’s values were questioned everywhere, daily. In 1969, things went silly. “Hair,” the American tribal love-rock musical, hippie values and the anti-war movement co-opted in a Broadway show, was the number one popular culture even that summer.

The silent majority thought it was absurd. They thought as little of the Woodstock festival that took place the month before “Okie” charted. A hippie mud party, with strange music. And there were all those other weird hippie songs on the radio. No one was writing songs for them anymore, until Merle Haggard put everything right. The kids in Muskogee still respected the college dean, Haggard writes. This line implies that, in other places, they didn’t. It’s misleading. Protest rallies on college campuses had been common for several years. It was the war, not the dean, that the kids targeted; specifically,

the presence of armed forces recruiters on campus. The line reflects rather than predicts. Okie From Muskogee 3 The conservative ideals expressed in the lyrics of “Okie From Muskogee” made Merle Haggard President Nixon’s favorite country singer (Biography). A decision based on the words of one song, a statement probably made at a time when it was the right thing to say. The president’s favorite country singer’s life story includes a string of arrests for petty crimes and three years in San Quentin for armed robbery (he wasn’t pardoned until Ronald Reagan became president).

The silent majority overlooked both Haggard’s record and the president’s taste in country singers. Okie From Muskogee 4 Works Cited Biography. Merle Haggard. New Music Express. Retrieved 9 April 2009 from http://www. nme. com/artists/merle-haggard Nixon, Richard. Speech. 3 November 1969. Retrieved 10 April 2009 from <http://www. watergate. info/nixon/silent-majority-speech-1969. shtml> Selvin, Joel. “Country Star Merle Haggard Stands Tall. ” San Francisco Chronicle, 29 March 2009. Retrieved 10 April 2009 from http://merlehaggard. com/2009/03/country-star-merle-haggard-stands-tall/

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