Okie From Muskogee Anniversary Edition


The 20th anniversary of the notorious Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding relationship, as celebrated by two specials coinciding with last month’s Winter Olympics, caught me by surprise. So I had my own celebration by reposting Loudon Wainwright III’s transcendent tribute to the bygone days of women’s figure skating and sportsmanship, “Tonya’s Twirls,” which eventually surfaced on his 1999 album Social Studies (a live version was included in his 2003 album So Damn Happy).

The Beatles’ 50th, of course, came as no surprise—nor should it have. But when I got the press release that it’s the 45th anniversary of “Okie From Muskogee,” well, I was truly taken aback.

I mean, really? “Okie From Muskogee”? The 45th? Who knew?

But it’s a big enough deal, apparently, to warrant the two-disc Okie From Muskogee Anniversary Edition, to be released March 25 and include not only the live Okie From Muskogee album (released in December, 1969, notes the release, shortly after the titletrack reached No. 1 on the country chart) but the “long out-of-print” 1970 live album The Fightin’ Side of Me, which was likewise named for a Haggard patriotic hit.

But back to Okie.

Merle Haggard - Okie From MuskogeeThe titletrack hit “served to refute the counter-culture of the late 1960s while extolling the virtues of a small-town, conservative lifestyle, and immediately became a signature tune for Haggard,” says the release. You know, “We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee….”

Maybe not in ’69, but when he came down from his tour bus in the parking lot of the Dane County Coliseum in Madison, Wis., 10 years later, he was just finishing up a joint. And while the album went on to win the 1969 Academy of Country Music award for Album of the Year—with Haggard picking up Top Male Vocalist and Single of the Year for “Okie from Muskogee”—now, 45 years later, it seems like an unfunny joke, as it actually was when he originally recorded it.

But what about the notorious Chinga Chavin parody “Asshole from El Paso” (“I’m proud to be an asshole from El Paso” which first appeared on his 1976 album Country Porn, but has been way more famously covered by his pal Kinky Friedman. Then again, a 38th anniversary is certainly less commemorable than a 45th.

But the only real reason to celebrate “Okie From Muskogee,” a song that otherwise pales next to Haggard classics on the reissued album including “Mama Tried,” “Silver Wings,” “I’m A Lonesome Fugitive,” “Sing Me Back Home” and “White Line Fever,” is that the proclamation of the song’s first line is now so hopelessly out of date.

Indeed, Friedman, after a few failed campaigns for political office in Texas, has just forced a runoff election in his current run for state agricultural commissioner. His chief issue? Legalization of marijuana!

Jim Bessman

Read more about MERLE HAGGARD

After beating lung cancer, “The Hag” still is who he is >>


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