My friend Chuck Poling wrote this really interesting article on country music during the Cold War.
Country music is such an interesting genre, polticially, to me, not just because it’s dominated by the Reba McEntires and Toby Keiths right now, but because the whole thing is much more complicated, for many country musicians, than it appears on the surface. It’s not just Toby Keith vs. the Dixie Chicks. There were/are people like Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard, who get lumped in with the conservatives, but if you look more closely at their politics, they adopt a very Christian-influenced approach.
Before you get your hackles raised, let me clarify that I don’t mean “Christian” in the sense of an organized religion (and certainly not Christian as in conservative Republican). I mean it in the sense of following true Christian ideals: a dedication to the common man and a fight for the dignity of that person. I know, you’re thinking Merle is still the same guy who wrote “Okie from Muskogee.” But look at that song: in addition to the anti-hippie theme, the lyrics are also about dignity and pride in one’s heritage. And, he recently told Acoustic Guitar magazine that his political beliefs have changed.
Merle Haggard, liberal icon?
Haggard realizes that it’s complex. He grew up poor. He did time. He doesn’t have time for the pie-in-the-sky idealism from folks who never really had to worry about how to put the next meal on the table (i.e., people like me). It’s easy to be idealistic when you have a safety net. And hey, we need those idealists. They’re an important part of the whole process because they show us what we can aspire to. But for the populists, it’s a fight for what’s right with an understanding of what can be achieved with hard work.
Take, for example, the energy crisis. Some folks put bumper stickers on their cars and try to conserve and go out and protest the war. That’s great. They’re getting their message across in a succinct way, and it’s an important message, AND they’re taking measures to help fix the problem. But Willie Nelson says, “Hey, I’m going to start a business and get truckers using biodiesel, which will save the American family farm, get us out from under OPEC’s thumb, AND help the environment.” Win-win. Hag’s on the green energy thing, too.
Personally, I like that kind of politics. I like it when people don’t dwell on the problem but instead are focused on constructive, mutually beneficial solutions. Go Willie and Hag.