I recently learned that you have written several open letters to President Obama over the past few years. Please forgive me for not having noticed them before; I was busy trying to pay my bills, finish a dissertation, and teach several classes a semester (being an academic probably makes me seem like one of the elitists you mentioned in a recent letter but, please, stick with me).
I finally found some extra time to read them and, I have to say Charlie, I’m disappointed in you. As a Yankee who has lived his entire adult life in the South (and has come to love the region), I think you could do better by our country. These letters are just mean and, dare I say, very Un-American. I spent a fair amount of time listening to your music growing up (thanks Columbia House!), and your vitriolic letters have damaged my appreciation for someone who played a key role in the rise of Southern Rock in the 1970s. It’s particularly upsetting coming from a music legend who has shown a real sense of compassion for the different and downtrodden in the past.
I’ve always known you to be a proud American and believer in core values. And, for the most part, I’ve been right there with you. I went to church every Sunday from the time I was a baby right on up to the day I left for college but nothing I heard there taught me how to stand up to Satan and face down evil quite like “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” (Although, truth be told, Charlie, you made being in Satan’s band seem kind of cool with that rolling piano line and crazy fiddle-playing.) Nothing really slammed home the consequences of greed and theft like “The Legend of Wooley Swamp.” And I was particularly moved by your tribute to Vietnam veterans who suffer from PTSD, “Still in Saigon.”
And I have to ask, Charlie, what happened to your sense of tolerance? It seems to have gone down the crapper as you’ve drifted over to the right-wing. Do you play “Uneasy Rider” anymore? Have you listened to it lately? You mock a very nice cross-section of the indefensible things conservatives in the 1950s and 1960s lauded—the KKK, George Wallace, even the John Birch Society. You even have your long-haired hippie hero chase those dumb rednecks around the parking lot in a Chevrolet that sported a peace sign on the back bumper. The song reads a lot like a statement in support of accepting social differences, if you ask me.
And what about “Long-haired Country Boy”?! You write a song in which some dude lazes around all day (since he clearly doesn’t have a job), smokes a bunch of pot in the morning, then drinks a whole mess of booze in the afternoon (what’s left at night—heroin and hookers?), while dismissing an upstanding member of the nation’s religious community for speaking out against rock and roll music. This song’s subject clearly appears to be one of the nation’s “have-nots” you have some serious disdain for in your most recent letter. So what’s different about this have-not? If you are so sure your long-haired country boy is happy because he hasn’t any money but “damn sure has it made” and is worthy of emulation because he “ain’t askin’ nobody for nothin’, if I can’t get it on my own,” why do you seem to assume that our country’s other have-nots are bitter socialists in the making, looking to steal money from the rich man’s pocket while avoiding hard work? At least some of them have to know the consequences of that attitude having heard “Wooley Swamp” a few times.
I think it might benefit everyone if you took another look at your song “In America.” Granted, one of your big points here is, basically, “All you non-American America-haters can kiss my ass.” I hope I haven’t oversimplified that point. But you’re saying something else much more important. Take, for example, these lines:
From the sound up in Long Island out to San Francisco Bay
And ev’ry thing that’s in between them is our home
And we may have done a little bit of fighting amongst ourselves
But you outside people best leave us alone
Cause we’ll all stick together and you can take that to the bank
That’s the cowboys and the hippies and the rebels and the yanks
You know what this says to me? It says we are all in this together. And I know you meant it that way, too. C’mon, you mentioned San Francisco! Don’t tell me when you wrote that there wasn’t a moment when you thought, “hmmmm…that’s where The Gays live.” C’mon, you can admit it. But you put it in there anyway. Way to go, Charlie! You wrote this song during the Iran Hostage Crisis and the point was well taken then.
But the point you seem to miss, Charlie, is that we are always in it together. All the time. Everyday. Not just when hostages are taken or the Soviet Union threatens us with nuclear annihilation or when terrorists fly planes into buildings. We are also in it when the economy goes in the tank and people lose their jobs and need a helping hand to get back on their feet. Those people, the current “have-nots,” are Americans, too, just like you. They work hard and feel shame about asking for help but do so reluctantly to feed their kids and have a place to live until they get things back on track.
Charlie, it doesn’t help those people or America when you insult them or call the president, the man chosen to chart us out of our current Wooley Swamp, an anti-Jesus, America-hating Socialist who wants to see the nation fail. C’mon, man, I had hoped you were better than that.
Come on back from that ledge, Charlie, and if you bring a few people with you it’s a dead certain guarantee that, to paraphrase one of your own songs, “America’s Going to Do it Again.”
Chris Huff is only the drummer.