Three years ago, the queens of country cross-over, the Dixie Chicks, alienated the country music world with a rather inocuous comment about President George W. Bush. The comment, made just days before the launch of Operation Iraqi Freedom, brought the trio a world of trouble and cast them as traitors in the eyes of many country fans. With a new album due this week, anyone who thinks the Chicks are ready to repent and play nice had better think again.
When the Dixie Chicks debuted in 1990 with their independently released Thank Heavens for Dale Evans nobody could have guessed just how independent the future chart dominatrices would be. The group that helped push the later-day country crossover craze of the late 90s and establish themselves as the queens of MOR hits has become a firebrand of independence and integrity—and it all started with an off-the-cuff remark in a foreign country on the eve of war.
Feisty singer Natalie Maines took the Chicks from mega selling bores to Nashville pariahs on March 10, 2003. Bucking the stereotype of the jingoistic, pseudo-patriotic country music denizens, Maines announced to a sold out crowd in London, “Just so you know, we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.”
It’s not so controversial, what she said. There are plenty of reasons three smart, savvy, talented women from Texas might not be at all taken by the Frat Guy in Chief. But Maines made no derisive remarks about the President, nor did she denigrate the troops who were facing the specter of war in a fight for “freedom,” including, presumably, Freedom of Speech. And yet, what Maines and company faced next would be a corporate conviction and punishment worthy of High Crimes and Misdemeanors.
Country music stations across the nation “spontaneously” imposed a boycott of the Dixie Chicks music. As it turns out, the boycott was heavily supported and even promoted by corporate shits at Clear Channel Communications who owned a bulk of the stations that would normally fight like starved rats for the chance to “break” a new Dixie Chicks song on the air. Clear Channel, not so coincidentally, had a vested interest in a number of legislative and legal issues before the Republican controlled congress and FCC, not the least of which dealt with media consolidation where a positive outcome (in Clear Channel’s view) could boost station ownership and further tighten the media giant’s hold on FM markets. It was the perfect opportunity to come to a friend’s aid.
But to be fair, money talks and if the fans had sided with the Chicks the stations would have relented and played what their audience demanded. Instead, the Dixie Chicks faced hostile crowds and death threats specific and probable enough to get the FBI involved. Overnight, their once solid, screaming fanbase had turned their enthusiasm to anger and were calling for their fallen idols’ heads.
Under pressure, Maines issued a semi-apology, “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.” In an interview this weekend, she now wants to retract even that mild apology to a President she feels deserves no respect, “whatsoever.”
Sure, it’s easier today to speak out against a president who is increasingly seen as one of the worst in recent memory. With Iraq a constant source of bad news (though recent political developments there are hopeful), gas at record highs while oil companies reap equally record profits, his base eroding faster than the ice caps…it’s suddenly chic to bully Bush. But is it commercially smart when the one-third of the country who still supports the president is likely a country music consumer? The Dixie Chicks don’t seem to care.
Founding Dixie Chick Martie Mcguire put it simply and in terms any Indie and Punk fan should appreciate: “I’d rather have a small following of really cool people who get it, who will grow with us as we grow and are fans for life, than people that have us in their five-disc changer with Reba McEntire and Toby Keith,” Maguire said. “We don’t want those kinds of fans. They limit what you can do.”
The Dixie Chicks’ new album, Taking the Long Way drops this Tuesday, May 23. The lead single is “Not Ready to Make Nice.” I haven’t heard any of this album but I think I’m going to buy it if for no other reason than to be a good American and support Free Speech and independent thought.
Glorious Noise last covered the Dixie Chicks back in 2002 with “Home Girls.”