Hit & Run

Okie from Hibbing


The latest in our series of culture-war stereotype-busters:

Bob Dylan is about to tour with Merle Haggard.

NEXT: Scream, Deanula, Scream

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  1. If Dylan is able to play "The Story of The Hurricane" without rednecks booing him off stage, then I'll believe the culture war has been overhyped.

  2. Um, you'd have to be living under a pop-culture rock for the past 20 years to not know that Dylan and Haggard are on the same side of the alleged cultural divide. In fact, Haggard is the only one who's an outspoken lefty these days. Dylan just shuts up and sings, and we appreciate that.

  3. Steve: Haggard is more a populist than a lefty (he's pro-Roy Moore as well as anti-war), and Dylan's politics are an ideological mishmosh, especially since his Christian period. They aren't on the same side of the culture war so much as they're a pair of living rebukes to its blinkered view of the world.

  4. I thought country singers with leftist leanings had their CD's burned. Or was that just because the Dixie Chicks aren't very good?

    Personally, I don't care what an entertainer's political leanings are. I can also appreciate Dylan for that. He never wanted to be the voice of any group, and seemed to resent the mantle of being "the next Woody Guthrie". Folk groupies smell bad, anyway.

    I tend to ignore an individual's global philosophy. If I like their music, I like their music and that's it. Those who are closer to the extremes might tend to let their own personal prejudices subconsciously influence their choice of entertainment, but for the most part I don't think enough people care either way to make a difference.

    In other words, I don't avoid listening to Charlie Daniels because he's a racist hawk. I don't listen to Charlie Daniels because he sucks.

  5. According to the ultimate authority on all things Southern Rock related-- The Drive-By Truckers-- Haggard was against the war and wrote Okie from Muskogee from his Dad's point of view.

    And speaking of Charlie Daniels, did you know he made a sequel to The Devil Went Down To Georgia? I won't ruin the ending by telling you who wins the fiddle showdown the second time around.

  6. Hag's rep as at least a cultural conservative probably derives as much from The Fightin' Side Of Me as from Okie. That was a song Travis Tritt would pretend to kill somebody to have written.


    Merle and Bob share an interest in American roots music. Both made Jimmie Rogers tribute albums, Haggard by himself, Dylan as a compilation with other artists. I don't this pairing strange at all.


  7. Given their careers (and lives, really), I find it hard to think of Haggard and Dylan as stereotypical representatives of anything -- both of pissed off large numbers of their fans multiples times over several decades, after all. I prefer instead to see this as another development of what I call oldies rock -- not oldies music, but music by elder statesman of musical forms we generally associate with youth. The Costello/Bacharach production, the Johnny Cash revival, and probably Tom Waits, under current trajectory...All trying to make music from an old guy perspective. This was pretty much a boys club until Loretta Lynn's recent album -- another artist who confounds stereotypes. All in all I think it is an interesting musical development...
    But I think it says little about the culture war, insofar as all of these artists stand outside the current culture war context -- sure, they have emblematic purposes, but they're hardly at the forefront of any sort of movement these days. Surely its more significant that most people on the right and the left find, for example, the whole Spongebob brouhaha moronic? I mean, they do, don't they?

    And on a separate note, damn, it stinks that I'm going to be on the wrong coast during those dates...


  8. A lot of the songs from Merle Haggard's early period cover the same themes (lyrically, not musically) as modern day gangsta rap, although "mutherfucker" wasn't a big part of his vocabulary. Okie from Muscogee was satire.

  9. Both made Jimmie Rogers tribute albums, Haggard by himself, Dylan as a compilation with other artists. I don't this pairing strange at all.

    They're also both huge Woody Guthrie fans. (When I was a DJ, I loved to piss off the folkies by playing "Okie from Muskogee" back to back with tracks from Dust Bowl Ballads.)

    Just to make it clear, I don't find the pairing at all unusual -- and not just because these are two of my favorite musicians. I think it's a very natural (and very American) collaboration. But it does fly in the face of media stereotypes. For proof, think back to the way the press gaped when Haggard recorded "That's the News" a couple years ago.

  10. And on a separate note, damn, it stinks that I'm going to be on the wrong coast during those dates...

    Don't despair. The website says, "More dates will be added. Visit this page regularly for updates!"

  11. Jesse,

    I think the press response to "That's the News" shows just how inert Haggard is as a cultural icon -- he's ossified as a cultural product. I would still argue that the piece posted here (I think) about the chumminess between Michael Moore and Mel Gibson says a lot more about the breakdown of culture war stereotypes the this tour.

    And I will check the website regularly.


  12. Dude, Dylan & Haggard?

    That's gotta give Jesse a big Chubby.


  13. You have to know absolutely nothing about Bob Dylan for this to be a surprise.

  14. Wrong, SPD. Dylan loved being the next Guthrie (at least for awhile). But in the 60s he was literally being viewed as some kind of cosmic messiah, and that's what he resented (deeply).

  15. Ugh - Haggard in concert is just painful now. The last time I saw him I was embarrassed for him.

  16. Dylan & Willie Nelson did a summer tour last year, playing mostly (if not all) small baseball parks. Sadly, they weren't within 500 miles of me.

    This will be great, and I hope I get to see a show. I saw a little of Dylan & Hag at Willie Nelson's whatever-the-hell show that was broadcast on (I think) the USA network. At the Wiltern in Los Angeles. Keith Richards and Jerry Lee Lewis put in fine performances, as did a bunch of other good people.

    In Dylan's "Chronicles I," he quotes a line or three from Haggard.

    Anyway, whether they've been buddies for 40 years or just met (unlikely), they both make great American music. As for their politics, good luck trying to figure that out. I don't really care, but I like the fact that so many people go crazy when Bob or Merle makes any sort of vague political statement, whether in song or prose or whatever. They do both seem to have a healthy hatred for the modern police state, and great cynicism about the government ... you know, like people used to have before the War On Everything.

  17. I admire Merle's work a lot, less so Dylan, but f-- almighty, Bill Monroe was still shoveling the coal and not breaking a sweat when he was at the ages these guys are.

    Personally, I think there's a short window for Dylan's work from around 1965-74 that's listenable, anything after that causes pain to anyone but the faithful who've had their brains rewired somehow.

  18. Have to agree with TPG.

    I saw Merle in concert, a small club gig, about ten years ago. The guy made zero effort to connect with the audience. He just mailed it in. From just the expression on his face he didn't even want to be there. As the crowd got restless, waiting to here one of the hits, he just withdrew deeper.

    Learned my lesson. It's a lot funner catching bands on their way up than to witness their painful descent.

  19. Well, I've seen Haggard twice in the last few years. He was really late to one of the shows, and the other one was way too short -- but when he was playing, I had no complaints.

  20. Who else is from Hibbing, Minnesota?

  21. I agree that Dylan's politics have been all over the map, but deeper down, they seem to reveal a markedly anti-statist and individualistic strain. It was Allen Ginsberg who summed him up as being "about the individual versus the whole of creation."

    Recently he spoke derisively of "leftist puritans," and even in the early '60s protest years -- well before the legendary '66 tour when he was denounced as a "Judas" (and worse) by the folk establishment -- he was already beginning to chafe under the rigid political correctness of that milieu.

    See, for instance, his hilariously drunken '63 speech in accepting the Tom Paine Award from the NECLC, during the course of which he insulted his audience's age, respectability and appearance, rejected "thinking about anything trivial such as politics," and rambled on (to a gathering chorus of boos) about "[seeing] some of myself" in Lee Harvey Oswald! He later apologized by claiming that

    " ... like an artist who puts his painting (after
    he's painted it) in front of thousands of unknown
    eyes, I also put my song there that way
    (after I've made it)
    it is as easy an as simple as that
    it is a fierce heavy feeling
    thinkin something is expected of you
    but you dont know what exactly it is...
    it brings forth a weird form of guilt
    but I am sick
    so sick
    at hearin 'we all share the blame' for every
    church bombing, gun battle, mine disaster,
    poverty explosion, an president killing that
    comes about.
    it is so easy t say 'we' an bow our heads together
    I must say 'I' alone an bow my head alone
    for it is I alone who is livin my life [...]"


    Flash forward to 2001, from an interview with Robert Hilburn:

    "I am not a forecaster of the times. But if we're not careful, we'll wake up in a multinational, multi-ethnic police state -- not that America can't reverse itself. Whoever invented America were the greatest minds we've ever seen, and people who understand what the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights are all about will come to the forefront sooner or later."

    And for bonus points, from an '81 interview with Dave Herman:

    "Guns have been a great part of America's past. So, there's nothing you can do about it. The gun is just something which America has got, lives with. I don't think gun control is making any difference at all. Just makes it harder for people who need to be protected."

  22. Doug Fletcher--

    You are right about Dylan's work in the late 70s and 80s--it has some serious problems, from song writing through production.

    But his last two records have been great.

    And as far as Dylan not "shoveling coal" goes, I saw him run circles around Willie Nelson last summer in New Haven, Connecticut--Willie plays just about every show exactly the same, but Dylan comes to play hard, and you never know how.


  23. Well, I've seen Haggard twice in the last few years. He was really late to one of the shows, and the other one was way too short -- but when he was playing, I had no complaints. - Jesse

    C'mon, Jesse! Don't you recognize a George Jones cover when you lay your eyes on one? 🙂


  24. Heh. No, that would be if he didn't show up at all.

  25. Tom Berman,

    Ever see that SNL skit where Bob Dylan visited Woody in the hospital?

  26. -Willie plays just about every show exactly the same -

    Stoned !

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