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2003 Revisited: Bush, Shame, and the Dixie Chicks.

Posted by on May. 26, 2010 at 1:17 PM
  • 6 Replies

 

Mar 18, 2003 | It's common knowledge how conservative the country music industry is: The bulk (though not all) of country music is about home and hearth and heartache, and particularly given how flat sales of recorded music are these days, the industry has a lot riding on that image. Toby Keith, whose hit "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (the Angry American)" is suitably, fulsomely flag-waving, must be the golden boy of the country establishment right about now.

So what on earth are they going to do with a willful kid like Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks? Maines, a native of Lubbock, Texas, got herself into trouble last week when she told a London audience, "Just so you know, we're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas." The London papers barely blinked an eye, but the American media caught on fast. A Nashville radio station was deluged with phone calls on Thursday, some of those callers demanding a boycott of the Dixie Chicks' music. Two radio stations in Dallas reportedly stopped playing Dixie Chicks' music -- for that day, at least. (The group's latest LP, "Home," took three Grammys last month and has been lodged firmly in the No. 1 slot on the Billboard country charts for the past 28 weeks.)

Maines didn't even rush to clean up the damage. "I feel the president is ignoring the opinion of many in the U.S. and alienating the rest of the world," she said on Thursday. "My comments were made in frustration, and one of the privileges of being an American is you are free to voice your own point of view."

Apparently that's not a privilege afforded to Grammy-winning singers with top-10 records. By Friday the suits at Sony, the group's record label, must have gotten to Maines. In a "Manchurian Candidate" style "I hear and I obey" statement -- the sort of thing you might hear from someone with electrodes affixed to her temples -- she said, "As a concerned American citizen, I apologize to President Bush because my remark was disrespectful. I feel that whoever holds that office should be treated with the utmost respect."

You could criticize Maines for backing down, and there may be plenty on the left who'd just as soon do that as give her credit for speaking up in the first place. And I'm sure there are people out there who feel it's ridiculous that a singer should step out of bounds to make a political statement at all. Sure, you'd expect it from Elvis Costello, who, as a guest host on the David Letterman show last week, performed a very pointed version of "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding."

But entertainers in the mainstream, the common wisdom goes, must never dare to do anything but entertain. Other than making pleasantly ambiguous statements like, "Let's all hope for peace" (would that be before or after we kick Iraq's ass?), it's best for any artist who hopes to hang onto one of those precious ancient documents called a recording contract to keep mum.

Which is exactly why Maines' comment -- one she made, incidentally, in a country whose citizens are suffering a collective crisis of conscience thanks to events our president set in motion -- stands as the boldest thing anyone in the entertainment industry has said since the war flap began. It's not simply what she said, but the words she chose. I keep circling back to her startlingly succinct choice of words: She used the word ashamed. She didn't say, "We have complicated feelings about the war" or "We hope the war will not happen" or "May peace prevail" (Costello's signoff during his Letterman broadcast).

Maines' statement wasn't about hope, that most steadfast of country values, at all. It was about shame -- and who, particularly in the entertainment industry, ever uses so strong a word? Against the ongoing blanding out of America, a massive country star actually had the guts, for a moment, to say exactly what she thinks.

Because the Dixie Chicks are huge mainstream stars, they're expected to hold mainstream, down-home, Middle American values. (In so vast a country, where, exactly, is the middle?) Criticism of the president surely doesn't fit into that scheme. And of course, by extension, Maines and the other Chicks must be against not just the president but the troops getting ready to fight. Why else would a few hundred protesters in Bossier City, La., gather to run over a heap of Dixie Chicks CDs with a 33,000-pound tractor, as they did yesterday. The tractor activists said they were supporters of President Bush and of nearby Barksdale Air Force Base.

If it takes a tractor to make your point, so be it. But you have to wonder: Have the Bossier City protesters actually listened to the Dixie Chicks' "Travelin' Soldier" (currently the nation's No. 1 country song)? The song, written by Bruce Robison, is about a Vietnam soldier who doesn't come back. You couldn't find a song that's more sensitive not just to the men who actually have to fight wars, but to the people at home who suffer as they wait for them.

Country music, despite what its detractors will tell you, is filled with nuance. But unfortunately, some of country's most steadfast fans are also the very people who'd kill what's great about it: These are people who can't be bothered to listen between the notes of "Travelin' Soldier" -- particularly when it's Toby Keith who's spelling out what they really want to hear.

Singers aren't always witty pundits or great thinkers. But I believe that, perhaps because they're so used to using words in very specific ways, they sometimes have a knack for cutting to the core of our most unspeakable thoughts and feelings.

Maybe the American left would think more of Maines (if they think of her at all) if she hadn't backed down and offered that apology. But by speaking out so spontaneously, and by saying words that hadn't been mulled over or chewed over or processed to the point of meaning nothing, Maines took a step that few other contemporary country singers would have dared to. It doesn't matter at all whether she did so out of naiveté. And what's so naive, anyway, about thinking that as an American she should be free to speak her mind? The tradition of making incendiary statements generally belongs to rock 'n' rollers, but as Maines knows by now, there's always a price to pay for saying what you really think. The Beatles were bigger than Jesus. It was coming right out and saying it that got John Lennon into trouble.
- http://dir.salon.com/ent/music/feature/2003/03/18/dixie_chicks/


 'As a concerned American citizen, I apologize to President Bush because my remark was disrespectful. I feel that whoever holds that office should be treated with the utmost respect. We are currently in Europe and witnessing a huge anti-American sentiment as a result of the perceived rush to war. While war may remain a viable option, as a mother, I just want to see every possible alternative exhausted before children and American soldiers' lives are lost. I love my country. I am a proud American.' - Natalie Maines, March 14, 2003

 

Would the public response be the same today if Ms. Maines' remarks had been about President Obama?  What were your thoughts in 2003, and do you still have the same opinion today?

Sherri


"There is nothing wrong in America that can't be fixed with what is right in America." -- Bill Clinton

by on May. 26, 2010 at 1:17 PM
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Replies (1-6):
norwegianwood
by Platinum Member on May. 26, 2010 at 1:46 PM

 What's the point of a 2003 incident? Hardly current really is it?

***edited*** oh..I get it now that I reread the post to include the follow on qustion...

Free speech. It's not what I would do, especially in a foreign country, but whatever. However, the speech of her fans in reaction is ALSO free speech and just as FAIR GAME. My opinion of what she said was more appropriately expressed by those who said..."Sorry. I buy your music for music, not your political views. If you are going to use your fame to promote your political views. I can find someone else's music I appreciate just as much who appreciate it's not their politics I am promoting."

P

mrs_khan07
by Silver Member on May. 26, 2010 at 1:49 PM

I remember this like it was yesterday. I was thrilled. And I have to say I was pretty let-down when she offered an apology. We either have the right to speak freely or we don't. There shouldn't be that middle ground where you can say what you want, but if we don't like it, your life will be ruined. But hey, you can still say it. Physically. But go ahead and bend over while you're saying it, cuz we're gonna getcha.

This is why I hate mainstream music though. Nothing makes me angrier than when I find a great little-known band and then they suddenly have a major "break-through" and change completely. It's another way to confirm my point that most Americans are exactly the same. Flip through your radio stations and you'll know what America is about. It's sad. I wish more Americans could hear what Ani Difranco has to say about this country in her songs.

Oh, and to answer your other question, I don't think there would be the same outcry today. Bush was really good at keeping most of us in a fog. I remember feeling paranoid all the time because I had so many suspicions but the rest of country just walked in line like good little puppets, never questioning anything. But today, there is chaos everywhere. This has already been said about Obama some 300 times. I have to say, I miss the tranquility of my lonely paranoia. Now everyone is a schizo.


Mrs. Khan



mrs_khan07
by Silver Member on May. 26, 2010 at 1:50 PM


Quoting norwegianwood:

 What's the point of a 2003 incident? Hardly current really is it?

P

Did you read it? I think it's a great post. Reflection is a good thing.

Mrs. Khan



norwegianwood
by Platinum Member on May. 26, 2010 at 1:51 PM

 Are you suggesting that speech about 'her' speech is not ALSO free?

P

Quoting mrs_khan07:

I remember this like it was yesterday. I was thrilled. And I have to say I was pretty let-down when she offered an apology. We either have the right to speak freely or we don't. There shouldn't be that middle ground where you can say what you want, but if we don't like it, your life will be ruined. But hey, you can still say it. Physically. But go ahead and bend over while you're saying it, cuz we're gonna getcha.

This is why I hate mainstream music though. Nothing makes me angrier than when I find a great little-known band and then they suddenly have a major "break-through" and change completely. It's another way to confirm my point that most Americans are exactly the same. Flip through your radio stations and you'll know what America is about. It's sad. I wish more Americans could hear what Ani Difranco has to say about this country in her songs.

Oh, and to answer your other question, I don't think there would be the same outcry today. Bush was really good at keeping most of us in a fog. I remember feeling paranoid all the time because I had so many suspicions but the rest of country just walked in line like good little puppets, never questioning anything. But today, there is chaos everywhere. This has already been said about Obama some 300 times. I have to say, I miss the tranquility of my lonely paranoia. Now everyone is a schizo.


 

miss146mn
by on May. 26, 2010 at 1:52 PM


Quoting PurdueMom:


 

Would the public response be the same today if Ms. Maines' remarks had been about President Obama? 

I think so, if only because it was said about our country in another country. 

What were your thoughts in 2003, and do you still have the same opinion today?

It didn't bother me at all that she said it, only that she had to release the second statement and apology.  I feel the same way today.  If I don't like what an entertainer says/stands for, I don't buy their respective "products" or waste my time watching them on T.V. or listening on the radio.


mrs_khan07
by Silver Member on May. 26, 2010 at 1:58 PM

I don't see where you got that. Please explain.

Quoting norwegianwood:

 Are you suggesting that speech about 'her' speech is not ALSO free?

P

Quoting mrs_khan07:

I remember this like it was yesterday. I was thrilled. And I have to say I was pretty let-down when she offered an apology. We either have the right to speak freely or we don't. There shouldn't be that middle ground where you can say what you want, but if we don't like it, your life will be ruined. But hey, you can still say it. Physically. But go ahead and bend over while you're saying it, cuz we're gonna getcha.

This is why I hate mainstream music though. Nothing makes me angrier than when I find a great little-known band and then they suddenly have a major "break-through" and change completely. It's another way to confirm my point that most Americans are exactly the same. Flip through your radio stations and you'll know what America is about. It's sad. I wish more Americans could hear what Ani Difranco has to say about this country in her songs.

Oh, and to answer your other question, I don't think there would be the same outcry today. Bush was really good at keeping most of us in a fog. I remember feeling paranoid all the time because I had so many suspicions but the rest of country just walked in line like good little puppets, never questioning anything. But today, there is chaos everywhere. This has already been said about Obama some 300 times. I have to say, I miss the tranquility of my lonely paranoia. Now everyone is a schizo.


 


Mrs. Khan



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