Merle Haggard and the Lost “Free Life”

by James Bovard

“‘Is the best of the free life behind us now?’ Merle Haggard asked in a haunting 1982 country music hit song. Nine years earlier, Haggard had scoffed at potheads and draft dodgers in a White House performance of his song ‘Okie from Muskogee’ for President Richard Nixon. But reflecting widespread loss of faith in the American dream in the 1970s,his ‘free life’ song lamented Nixon’s lies, the Vietnam debacle, and the ravages of inflation. … He tacked on an upbeat ending: ‘The best of the free life is still yet to come.’ But he lost hope and lamented before his death: ‘In 1960, when I came out of prison as an ex-convict, I had more freedom under parolee supervision than there’s available to an average citizen in America right now …. God almighty, what have we done to each other?'” (06/25/24)