In 1969 country and western singer Merle Haggard released a song called Okie from Muskogee which was a huge hit. Part of its appeal was the ambiguity of its lyrics. Released at the height of the Vietnam war protests with the country deeply divided, widespread campus unrest, and protests in the streets, some saw the song as a repudiation of the hippie, drug using, counterculture movement and an upholding of so-called traditional values, while others saw it as poking fun (in a sly, tongue-in-cheek way) of narrow minded, small town, flag-waving patriotism.
As an example of the song’s ambiguity, the term ‘white lightning’ can be taken at face value but is also a euphemism for illegal home-brewed moonshine liquor, popular in some rural areas. So is Haggard praising the simple values of small town life or taking a dig at how people there really get their kicks?
Even after all these years, I still cannot decide which characterization of the song is true, which is a sign that Haggard is a clever songwriter. Whatever its politics, it is still a great song. You can see it performed here and judge for yourself.
Part of my reason for showing the clip is its tenuous connection with what I originally planned this post about. When the first Star Wars film came out in 1977, it caused a sensation. That same year at another film I saw a short parody called Hardware Wars, that was constructed as a mock trailer of the original film, a deliberately cheesy, low-budget production that used ordinary household appliances in place of futuristic technology.
I am not sure if current viewers will find Hardware Wars as funny as the audience in the theater did when we first saw it and hooted with laughter, since some of the allusions are dated, and people may not remember the details of the original film either. For example, to fully appreciate the parody of the famous bar scene with its weird assortment of aliens, you have to recall that scene as well as know the first line of the chorus of Okie from Muskogee (“I am just an Okie from Muskogee/A place where even squares can have a ball.”), which was still hugely popular.
Anyway, here it is:
POST SCRIPT: Yet more parody
Kinky Friedman sings his own version of Haggard’s song.