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The For the record, The Hag goes high profile

By Joel Bernstein, October 1999

Page 2...

And as to his own changes, Haggard says, 'I'm just trying to figure out what this is all about. How come and why come? It's like Marlon Brando said he wanted as his last words, 'What was all that shit about?'"

"I am content, with the understanding that there is a price. I get to enjoy this part of my life (being at home) for a while, then I have to drive to New York. I wish I didn't have to do that. I love performing, but the traffic increases from one tour to the next. Even when you fly, you need that bus to carry everything. It's like a security blanket."

It's really unfair, but for many people the name Merle Haggard conjures up one song, "Okie From Muskogee."

It's a song that means different things to different people. Haggard himself has given several spins on it over the years. Here's his latest. "It was meant to say one thing then, and people put three or four other meanings to it. The main message is describing the times then. Some people in mid-America were proud. Some people don't like change as much as others do. The point of view was Okies versus people on the seashores. Even today there's still big differences in the way people live, village societies. Communication was not as fast then as it is now. The little guy from Oklahoma had no voice at all, and here was Merle saying he was proud to be an Okie."

"The way people reacted to it was uncanny. We played it at an army base the night after I wrote it. They came up and took the mike away. A sergeant said, 'There is not going to be any other music until they repeat that song.' I thought 'They're getting something else out of it that I didn't intend.' But it was obvious then that it was a hit record, so I wasn't going to change it."

The song was followed up by another controversial number, "Fightin' Side of Me," which Haggard says was originally written as "Stubborn Side Of Me." "Country music wasn't in New York City then. Country radio now wouldn't play anything with that much controversy. They're afraid they might jar somebody out of their computer seat. They don't want to make anyone cry. Emotions should be what we cherish the most as human beings. It's what separates us from machinery."

At the same time that country radio was presenting Haggard as the voice of conservative America, he wrote "Irma Jackson" about an inter-racial romance. "It's possible to encompass a total personality in one human being." he says. "You can love black people and still be proud to be an Okie. This song was obviously different enough to fall in line with the other things - a surprise. Here's another way I feel. The label said, 'Merle, radio won't play it.' They never intruded in my sessions, but (label honcho) Ken Nelson understood programming. I was a little naive about it."

Haggard is no longer particularly concerned about radio. "I really don't need any records out there, as long as I can get paid for the ones they're selling now. I've got a good job. I'm 62. I can't compete at the level of these kids."

Hag has two gospel albums in the can, which will be released through Wal-Mart. Other than those, there might not be much new material in his future.

"I don't have any recording plans right now. There have been offers, but unless they pay me a lot of money, there's no reason to do anything. I go through periods where I write, but I don't try to force-write. I've still got a lot of opinions, but I'm too old to back 'em up."

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