In comments, Hob has obtained excerpts from an exclusive advance copy of Jonah Walters’s Prince memorial:
“Raspberry Beret” is obviously an anthem of bourgeois reaction.
The first verse briefly flirts with populist resentment of the boss, Mr. McGee, but that’s just to distract you from the monstrous anti-labor sentiments of the rest of the song– as Prince goes on to praise the object of his desire for wearing a second-hand beret. In other words, why support Americans working in the beret industry when you can just pick up the cast-off berets of well-off bohemians for a few bucks? Worse, her hedonistic lifestyle is basically an excuse to disparage garment workers in general, since other than the beret she wears as little clothing as possible.
There’s another false hint of more promising political content when the young protagonists head for Mr. Johnson’s farm. Is it to organize his laborers? If only. Perhaps they plan to do some farm work themselves? Not even. Their goal is to erase all understanding of a “barn” as a locus of collective economic activity and cultural tradition, and redefine it as simply a private source of entertainment for tourists who want to “feel like a movie star” and vapidly marvel that “the rain sounds so cool.” No wonder “the horses wonder who U are” (and by the way, did U ever stop to wonder who they are?)– this entitled consumerist outlook makes it clear that Prince’s real class identification is with Mr. McGee.
Erik’s analysis of why Walters’s Haggard essay was so terrible is evidently comprehensive. But what’s remarkable to me is how ill-informed and tendentious it is even taking Walters’s approach of treading song lyrics as if they’re op-eds (saying that “Okie From Muskogee” is “hypocritical” because Haggard smoked pot as if the song was autobiographical is such embarrassing philistinism that as Erik notes Richard Nixon literally made the same mistake.) To conclude that he was a “run-of-the-mill conservative” involves reducing arguably the deepest songbook in one of the country’s most vital musical forms to fewer than ten songs, most of them (unlike “Okie” and “Fighting Side”) minor ones very marginal to his canon. In addition to “Irma Jackson,” which Haggard wanted to be the follow-up single to “Okie,” you have to ignore the prison songs, even though his most famous one is also as prefect a single as, er, “Raspberry Beret.” You have to ignore the compassion of working-class portrayals like “If We Make it Through December.” You have to ignore the goofy environmentalist utopinaism of “Rainbow Stew.” And so on. The contradictions and confusions in his political stances can probably tell us something interesting about American politics, but it would have to be in the form of an essay written by someone with some idea what the hell she’s talking about.