"The Dope From Muskogee" by Charles Potts

merlehaggard

During the 1960s, when half of America was a race riot and an anti-war demonstration, the great musician Merle Haggard made a famous song called “Okie from Muskogee” in which he sang, “We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee, a place where even squares can have a ball.”

Now, forty-five years later, it turns out Haggard is a pothead. From the Jan 1, 2009 New York Times:

Merle Haggard plans to give his first concerts since undergoing surgery for lung cancer two months ago, Reuters reported. In a special twist, Mr. Haggard, 71, said that for the first time in his life he would perform without having first smoked tobacco or marijuana. Notwithstanding a jab at pot smokers in his 1969 hit “Okie From Muskogee,” Mr. Haggard has long indulged a marijuana habit of his own. [He gave up a few times over the years, but “nothing was funny,” he said.] Having now put it aside, he said, he expects to work harder in 2009. The concerts are set for Friday and Saturday in his hometown, Bakersfield, Calif.

It’s okay to be a hypocrite, but I think the heads of the 1960s are owed an apology, as the Okie song was just one more stupid stanza in a drug and culture war that, guess what, we are about to win! How did marijuana get legalized? Because they don’t have 120 million jail cells vacant at any one time.

So…

The Dope from Muskogee
for Merle Haggard

If you live long enough
You’ll get to see everything
Turned inside out.

Turns out the “Okie from Muskogee”
Turned into the Pothead from Bakersfield
With no apology yet foreseen
For the damage hippy hating did to this
Defunct Vietnam War torn country.

Pot smokers take turns
Passing their joints around.
Merle must have at least one song
In his tuckerbag to extol
The virtues of Marijuana over Valium:
Please pass the music.

Put him on the train for the
Medical uses of Marijuana
Recreation without drugs
Is hardly recreation at all.

—Charles Potts

Categories: Charles Potts, POETRY | Tags: | 4 Comments

About Jay Babcock

I am the co-founder and editor of Arthur Magazine (2002-2008, 2012-13) and curator of the three Arthur music festival events (Arthurfest, ArthurBall, and Arthur Nights) (2005-6). Prior to that I was a district office staffer for Congressman Henry A. Waxman, a DJ at Silver Lake pirate radio station KBLT, a copy editor at Larry Flynt Publications, an editor at Mean magazine, and a freelance journalist contributing work to LAWeekly, Mojo, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Vibe, Rap Pages and many other print and online outlets. An extended piece I wrote on Fela Kuti was selected for the Da Capo Best Music Writing 2000 anthology. In 2006, I was one of five Angelenos listed in the Music section of Los Angeles Magazine's annual "Power" issue. In 2007-8, I produced a blog called "Nature Trumps," about the L.A. River. Today, I live a peaceful life in the rural wilderness of Joshua Tree, California, where I am a partner in JTHomesteader.com with Stephanie Smith.

4 thoughts on “"The Dope From Muskogee" by Charles Potts

  1. Awesome poem, Charles. When I saw Merle open for Bob Dylan a couple years ago he actually DID apologize for “Okie From Muskogee.” It seemed really sweet and pretty sincere from where I was sitting. Then he sang the song and followed it up with this fun little improvised sketch about getting stoned before the show. It was almost as good as the cracked live version of “Okie” that the Grateful Dead played with the Beach Boys (?!) at the Fillmore back in April of 1971.

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  3. Now, I’ve always understood that this song was intended as a joke, and had to do with his father. So it’s strange to me that he apologized in concert for it. Maybe he apologized because folks like Jeannie C. Riley took his song seriously and re-interpreted/subverted it as a totally straight anti-hippie anthem–a take that spread far and wide to the rednecks (and heads) who didn’t get it, either.

    from Merle:
    “It started out as a joke. We wrote to be satirical originally. But then people latched onto it, and it really turned into this song that looked into the mindset of people so opposite of who and where we were. My dad’s people. He’s from Muskogee, you know?” Haggard once noted about “Okie from Muskogee.” In fact, critic Kurt Wolff wrote that Haggard always considered what became a redneck anthem to be a spoof, and that today fans – even the hippies that are derided in the lyrics – have taken a liking to the song and take humor in some of the lyrics.

    http://djallyn.org/archives/2252

    and from Wikipedia…
    “Okie From Muskogee”, 1969’s apparent political statement, was actually written as an abjectly humorous character portrait. Haggard called the song a “documentation of the uneducated that lived in America at the time.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Merle_Haggard

    Is it possible that once again, a great country musician was misunderstood by the “heads?”

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