The lyrics of "Oklahoma Rising," the state's centennial anthem, are infested with clichés, insensitive to contributions made by American Indians to the state and filled with hokey banalities that should embarrass anyone who lives here.
The lyrics should make Oklahomans extremely suspect about the tone of the official centennial celebration in 2007. Will it be as dorky and clichéd as the words to this song?
The lyrics were written by Oklahoma native Jimmy Webb. Another Oklahoman, Vince Gill, wrote the music for the song, which was premiered during a Sept. 11 private concert at Oklahoma City's Civic Center Music Hall.
Webb has written great songs, but the "Oklahoma Rising" lyrics stink. You might think with all the great musicians Oklahoma produces " from Garth Brooks to The Flaming Lips " centennial organizers could come up with something better than Webb's tortured, clichéd mush.
Here is the short list of clichés Webb uses to explain the last 100 years in Oklahoma: "We're Oklahoma risin'/brighter than a star," and "We are young and we are strong/we are comin' with a roar," and "Sooner than later we'll be knockin' on your door," and "Through fires and desperation/our faith has served us well," and "So when you call me Okie/man, you better say it loud."
All these clichés make the song seem juvenile, but what's worse, it does not directly mention American Indians. It refers to the "Oklahoma Run" and "prairie schooners" and "faith" (obviously we are to presume in context that Webb means Christian faith here), but says nothing about the many Indian tribes who help define Oklahoma. Ironically, the word "Oklahoma" is actually from Choctaw words meaning "red man."
The song also contains hokey, banal phases that leave one clueless. Here is one such instance: "We've sailed our prairie schooners/right into outer space." Does this refer to the recent space industry growth in Oklahoma? Or read these lines: "Say hello to the future/gonna shake the future's hand." What does that mean? Isn't everyone going to face the future? Or read this line: "We're the sons and the daughters/children of the West." OK, we're all sons and daughters, but doesn't that apply to everyone in the world, and are we really of "the West"? The exact middle of the continental United States is in north-central Kansas, which is a lot closer to Oklahoma than, say, Death Valley, Calif.
Woody Guthrie, the famous Oklahoma songwriter, wrote "Oklahoma Hills," the most powerful song ever written about the state. It should be considered for both the state song and the centennial song. But don't count on that happening, because the right-wing power structure in Oklahoma will not allow it due to Guthrie's left-wing political views.
"Oklahoma Hills" lives on, and it will continue to live on because people will sing it long after Webb's song dies on the vine. Here are some lyrics to that song: "Where the oak and the blackjack trees/kiss the playful prairie breeze/and I feel back in those hills/where I belong," and "Now as I turn life a page/to the land of the great Osage/in those Oklahoma hills/where I was born."
Here's a suggestion: The Flaming Lips should cover "Oklahoma Hills" in whatever form and style the group chooses to record and perform it, and that should be made the centennial song. - Kurt Hochenauer
Hochenauer is an English professor at the University of Central Oklahoma and author of the progressive blog Okie Funk: Notes from the Outback, www.okiefunk.com.