Tim Barker

All articles by this author

Outlaw Country

Outlaw Country

Merle Haggard, 1937–2016

The complexities of Merle Haggard were bound up with the complexities of a baffling political moment, when old rules had been destroyed without new ones being written, a time when everything seemed frustrating but anything seemed possible. But there is nothing inherently redemptive about flux or paradox. It’s nice to know that some George Wallace voters had a kind word for the Communists, just as it’s nice that Haggard followed “Okie from Muskogee” with “Irma Jackson,” a sympathetic portrayal of an interracial romance. But in the end Wallace-style fusion of redistributive populism with open racism crippled progressive politics in this country. There is no reason to forgive Haggard for singing “I ain’t never been on welfare / that’s one place I won’t be,” or “I wasn’t born and raised in no ghetto / just a white boy looking for a place to do my thing.”

Why Not Say What Happened?

Why Not Say What Happened?

On Days of Rage

The later pages of Days of Rage, though perhaps more relevant to the study of cults or mental illness than American radicalism, make for fun reading. The suicidal ineptitude of the second generation underground is complemented at times by their occasional picaresque escapes. The reader is supposed to be struck by how incompetent the radicals are, but it’s impressive that they managed to do anything at all. The lawyer for the SLA’s semiofficial spokesman remembers spending his trial getting high in the courthouse stairwell at his client’s insistence—“the finest marijuana I ever had . . . I remember it so clearly—literally floating into court.” He won the case.

Arms and the Man

Arms and the Man

How did a handful of Oakland radicals, drawing up their plans in a War on Poverty office in 1966, find themselves four years later with offices in sixty-eight cities, a budget in the millions, dozens of popular social programs, and a newspaper circulation of 150,000? And how did it all fall apart so quickly? (The Party formally disbanded in 1982, but Black Against Empire effectively ends in 1971, when an internal schism damaged the organization irreparably.) Bloom and Martin argue that state repression, though considerable, isn’t enough to explain the decline.

Outlaw Country

Outlaw Country

Merle Haggard, 1937–2016

The complexities of Merle Haggard were bound up with the complexities of a baffling political moment, when old rules had been destroyed without new ones being written, a time when everything seemed frustrating but anything seemed possible. But there is nothing inherently redemptive about flux or paradox. It’s nice to know that some George Wallace voters had a kind word for the Communists, just as it’s nice that Haggard followed “Okie from Muskogee” with “Irma Jackson,” a sympathetic portrayal of an interracial romance. But in the end Wallace-style fusion of redistributive populism with open racism crippled progressive politics in this country. There is no reason to forgive Haggard for singing “I ain’t never been on welfare / that’s one place I won’t be,” or “I wasn’t born and raised in no ghetto / just a white boy looking for a place to do my thing.”

Why Not Say What Happened?

Why Not Say What Happened?

On Days of Rage

The later pages of Days of Rage, though perhaps more relevant to the study of cults or mental illness than American radicalism, make for fun reading. The suicidal ineptitude of the second generation underground is complemented at times by their occasional picaresque escapes. The reader is supposed to be struck by how incompetent the radicals are, but it’s impressive that they managed to do anything at all. The lawyer for the SLA’s semiofficial spokesman remembers spending his trial getting high in the courthouse stairwell at his client’s insistence—“the finest marijuana I ever had . . . I remember it so clearly—literally floating into court.” He won the case.

Arms and the Man

Arms and the Man

How did a handful of Oakland radicals, drawing up their plans in a War on Poverty office in 1966, find themselves four years later with offices in sixty-eight cities, a budget in the millions, dozens of popular social programs, and a newspaper circulation of 150,000? And how did it all fall apart so quickly? (The Party formally disbanded in 1982, but Black Against Empire effectively ends in 1971, when an internal schism damaged the organization irreparably.) Bloom and Martin argue that state repression, though considerable, isn’t enough to explain the decline.