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  • Haggard, Springsteen & Times of Change

    My grandfather liked to say he was an “Okie from Muskogee,” having lived in the Oklahoma town for a period before moving to East Texas with my grandmother. I remember him telling me this numerous times, especially when Merle Haggard’s signature song came on the radio.

    Haggard, who died last week at age 79, wrote “Okie from Muskogee” in 1969 after he became frustrated with anti-military, pro-sex and drugs protests that helped define the Vietnam era. The song, released three weeks after Woodstock, became a Number One hit as angry, proud conservatives embraced and latched on to its lyrics.

    I’m not a huge Haggard fan, although I greatly admire his body of work and his ability to write about a hard scrabble life that included a stint at San Quentin, five wives, alcohol, drugs, bad business decisions, and battles with the IRS. Reading the many tributes written in the wake of his death, what I find most interesting is how he constantly evolved in his stances while tapping into the frustration of conservative whites piqued by changing morals and values.

    Interestingly, Haggard’s death came just a couple of days before Bruce Springsteen decided to cancel a concert in Greensboro, N.C., to protest the state’s passage of HB2 – or the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act. The law, passed during a hastily scheduled legislative session by an increasingly conservative General Assembly, discriminates against transgender people and the LGBT community.

    "To my mind, it's an attempt by people who cannot stand the progress our country has made in recognizing the human rights of all of our citizens to overturn that progress," Springsteen said in a statement announcing the cancellation. "No other group of North Carolinians faces such a burden."

    Driving through North Carolina earlier this week in a truck that had only AM radio, I heard “Okie from Muskogee” in tribute to Haggard and wondered what he would have thought of the state’s latest legal action. After all, U.S. politics are the most strident they’ve been since Vietnam, and Haggard already had come too close to the flames of controversy more than once.

    “I write from common knowledge, current knowledge, collective intelligence,” Haggard told author R.J. Smith about “Okie from Muskogee” in 2000. “At the time I wrote that song, I was just about as intelligent as the American public was. And they was about as dumb as a rock.”

    I wish everyone could evolve like that over time…

    The photos above are of my grandparents around the time "Okie from Muskogee" was released. The video below is of my favorite Haggard song, a duet with Willie Nelson on "Poncho & Lefty." (Seeing Townes Van Zandt, who wrote the song, in the video is a nice touch.)

  • After The Flood

    When my wife Jill asked, on the spur of the moment, if I wanted to accompany her on a quick two-day excursion to Austin, I jumped at the chance even though I just returned last week from a 12-day trip to Texas.

    Austin is one of my favorite cities, and given that Jill never had been here, I thought it would make for a nice opportunity to show her around. Little did we know that the flooding that has pounded much of Texas and Oklahoma for the past several weeks would hammer the state capital the day before we arrived.

    The last time I was in Austin was in December 2011, when the entire region was in the middle of a draught. But since early May, devastating thunderstorms have left Texas waterlogged. Sadly, at least 17 have been killed and another dozen were missing as of Tuesday evening in Texas and Oklahoma. Thousands in the two states have been forced from their homes and too many to mention have no power. More than 30 counties in Texas alone have been declared disaster areas.

    We flew into Austin, our plane arriving more than an hour late due to delays in Houston, another city also struck hard by flooding. The downtown hotel where we are staying is about a mile from North Lamar Boulevard, where the majority of the damage in the city occurred when Shoal Creek overflowed its banks on Monday.

    While Jill went to her meeting, I decided to take a look around, and walked down to North Lamar. Cleanup was ongoing at the Shoal Creek Saloon and a Goodwill store, where employees reported four feet of water. Remarkably, a 7-Eleven had reopened its doors for business — despite serious damage — after more than 30 workers came to help.

    By late afternoon, Shoal Creek was within its banks again, so I walked along the five-block trail from Ninth to Fourth Street amid the mud and silt. Debris, trash, and broken trees lined the trail. An dumpster could be seen across the way; the car that overturned nearby had been removed. A food truck was stuck, partially turned over, in the broken trees.

    Walking to the end of the line, I took out my iPhone and captured the images at the top of this entry. Crows, still covered in mud, washed themselves as the remaining water pushed through, at times rapidly even as it receded. I saw three snakes — probably water moccasins — curled up on the banks near Fourth Street and took my leave.

    It wasn’t what I was expecting when Jill suggested we go on this midweek trip. It was a beautiful day, although the ground remained so saturated that it was almost unbearably humid. We leave on Thursday morning, just before the rain is expected to return.

    For more photos, go to my Facebook page here.