Monday, December 29, 2008

In Defense of the Dixie Chicks

"...we're ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas..."

Twelve words spoken, mostly in humor, to a London audience by lead singer Natalie Maines. Her comments previous were essentially that they opposed the war effort and violence, which in 2003 was just in its early days. She said the next line, above, and then gave a laugh when the audience roared in their support.


Then, the line was picked up by a media outlet, carried to the states... and much of the country went nuts. Their song, "Traveling Soldier" was the #1 song in the country, and the next week, it plummeted to #36. The album, "Home", dropped like a rock. And people were demanding that country stations stop playing their music.

So, right here, right now, as promised in a previous post, I figured it was time to say what I thought about a group that I love dearly...

For the record, I don't agree with Natalie Maines' comments. I also think it was kind of foolhardy to say it to an audience overseas, especially denegrating a Commander-in-Chief. That's asking for trouble. Furthermore, I think that over the year that followed, when things were dying down, the Chicks set it upon themselves to rustle things back up again.

It was Emily Robison herself (or maybe it was Martie) who said that the whole thing might be the best thing for their career, because otherwise they would have never gotten Larry King, or The View or Barbara Walters.

President Bush's response? That they had the freedom to say what they wanted, but shouldn't get their feelings hurt when people don't support them for it. That caused another rift with The Dixie Chicks (it was Natalie who replied to that by saying that the President was a "Dumb Eff You See Kay"), and another dust up came.

Again, for the record (I say to make sure that no one is unclear of my opinions on this topic), I think President Bush had a point... use freedom to say what you want, but understand there are consequences.

Finally, "Not Ready to Make Nice" is a terrible song... not the message, but more of the "woe is me" lyrics accompanying a very un-Chick like bad tune. The song itself is not so much my issue, though, its more of the fact that it won tons of awards... not because the song was great, but because they were being applauded for going through what they did.

Now, having said all that, the whole thing was one of the dumbest things I'd ever seen. Or at least, the dumbest not involving liberals in office...

Seriously? She makes a dumb comment and thousands of country fans ask stations to stop playing their music? Whats worse is that those same people who protested, who rolled over their CDs in steamrollers (which is also very, very stupid), who went on the air and on camera and made death threats to Natalie while she was on tour are the same people that love Tim Robbins in "The Shawshank Redemption" or Barbra Streisand's music (God help 'em) or any other Hollywood liberal's movies and music. You can't protest one and not the other, let's face it.

What could radio stations do? Working for stations before, when a few listeners call, you don't have to do much. When hundreds of listeners call in, stations have to listen. And when they call in repeatedly, however goofy their demands might be, stations are forced to add--or remove--artists.

Then there was the whole thing with Toby Keith... he called her (Natalie) some names, she called him some names, it was a celebrity feud, he put pictures of her and Saddam Hussein (doctored) on the screen in his concerts, she wore a shirt that said "F.U.T.K.", and little imagination is needed to figure out what that means.

I love the Dixie Chicks. I have loved Emily, Martie and especially Natalie since their very first album, "Wide Open Spaces"... went out and got it not too long after "There's Your Trouble" was released to radio. Their next album, "Fly" was even better and their third, "Home" is one of my favorite CDs ever.

After a few years, I finally sat down and took a long, hard listen to "Taking the Long Way Home"... I got it not too long after it was released, but didn't really care to hear it, because I knew it was a political album. And I don't like political albums. A song here or there, sure, but for most of the album? Same thing with "Detours" from Sheryl Crow, a CD I'm sure I will get to in the next year or so...

To me, its the weakest of the four albums--well, five if you count the double disk "Top of the World" tour live CD, which is also excellent. A third or more of the CD is just like "Not Ready to Make Nice", its "We've been mistreated!" and "We're standing strong!" and "We're better than this!" and so on and so forth... its an angry album, kind of, and not the good angry that drove "Jagged Little Pill" from Alanis Morissette, its a bitter angry.

In fact, I ranked it #2 on the Worst Things of 2006, saying:
2. The Dixie Chicks’ New Album… I was truly looking forward to hearing their new stuff. I mean, yes, “Not Ready To Make Nice” was their way of not apologizing for their anti-Bush sentiment (which frankly, I don’t care either way their political views), but I was truly looking forward to hearing the new stuff that I just knew was going to supplant “Home”, their last album, as my ultimate Chicks experience. And it didn’t happen. I don’t even own it. I heard it a few times in Starbucks, and was just unhappy with the whole thing… the songs all sound mostly alike, and it seems like they were so absorbed with making everyone see how politically rebellious they were, and how they were media darlings now, they forgot to make good music. Oh, “Sin Wagon”, where hast thou gone?

The CD is just not much fun, really. And The Dixie Chicks are supposed to be fun.

Why do I like the Chicks so much? Because they are fun. Watching "Top of the World" on DVD, seeing Emily and Martie and Natalie throw down on the banjo and the mandolin and the dobro and hearing Natalie's incredible vocal make for one heckuva awesome group.

It's one of those "Pick 10 CDs to be stranded with on a deserted island", and assuming there is at least power, I'd have to toss "Home" into the bag to take with me.

It's the same reason I dig on Alison Krauss and Union Station, or the same reason that there is a dozen or more Ricky Skaggs tunes on my iPod--I dig bluegrass and the talent it takes to make it special. And I dig The Dixie Chicks because the terms "rockabilly" and "rock-grass" are cool when done right, and they do it right.

Look no further than "Tortured Tangled Hearts", from "Home" and also my very favorite Dixie Chicks song... just the fiddle kick off, the fun, strong vocals and melody... and anyone who likes bluegrassy type music can't tell me that when "Sin Wagon" starts, they aren't thumping the steering wheel in rhythm. I am.

This is who they were. This is who I hope they are again soon enough.

I'm hoping their legacy won't be what they said about the President, and "Not Ready to Make Nice". I'm hoping they make another CD that rivals "Home" and its played by country stations and audiences remember why they loved the Dixie Chicks in the first place.

My Ten Favorite Dixie Chicks Songs...

10) "Wide Open Spaces" (Wide Open Spaces)
9) "Everybody Knows" (Taking the Long Way)
8) "Truth No. 2" (Home)
7) "Ready to Run" (Fly)
6) "Long Time Gone" (Home)

5) "Traveling Soldier" (Home)
4) "Cowboy Take Me Away" (Fly)
3) "Godspeed" (Top of the World Live)
2) "Sin Wagon" (Fly)
1) "Tortured Tangled Hearts" (Home)

By the way, if you ever scroll across "Shut Up and Sing", stop flipping channels and watch it. Its a documentary that starts off with Natalie saying what she said, and the aftermath that followed. It seems like its careful not to be too leftish, and it does have the Dixie Chicks saying some stupid stuff too, in candid moments. Of course, I have to say that all the thoughts you've read above were already concrete in my head before I saw the documentary, but it helped. It is Rated R for language.

(trailer might take a minute to load)


  1. I'm completely shocked that you've taken this stance, in a good way. I was expecting another diatribe about liberals, etc, and I applaud you for resisting the opportunity to take the customary shots. And obviously I feel compelled to remind you that not everyone who doesn't think GWB walks on water is a "liberal" by default, although The Chicks may very well be. I don't know. I'm not Columbo. ("The Break-Up" reference, BTW.)
    I am also curious what the fallout would be if this happened today rather than in 2003 when W's approval rating was still respectable. 4200 American lives and almost a trillion dollars later, with terrorist attacks still occurring around the world, I'm not sure everyone would react to their comments with such vitriol.

  2. Somehow, I thought you might be a little surprised....

    Ive always felt that way about The Chicks--perhaps it was that I was such fans of theirs to begin with, and knew they had gotten a raw deal... I was quick to make sure readers understood that I thought it was kinda dumb to do what they did, then to keep going with it, but seriously... it was a whole lot of ado about a whole lot of nothing, and they, at least at the time, suffered needlessly for it.

    You do bring up a good point though... in "Shut Up and Sing", it shows a clip of the Chicks on Howard Stern's show in 2005, and Howard says (paraphrasing), "You know, I was pretty ugly to you three when it all happened... but two years later, I have to tell you--I'm sorry. I kind of agree with you at this point." I would imagine that a similar sentiment would be felt by many.

    And truth be told, I never thought Dubya walked on water, much like The President Elect appears too--I'm not sure I can defend any of his actions of the last two years anyway. We'll discuss the previous six on another blog, I'm sure.


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