May 15, 2006
Dixie Chicks - Not Ready to Make Amends
Three years ago, the Dixie Chicks were rising stars in country music. Their concerts were sold out; they were nominated in many categories in the Country Music Awards; and they were just about to hit the big time.
Then they made a disastrous mistake: on the eve of Operation Iraqi Freedom, lead singer Natalie Maines insulted President Bush during a concert in London, saying that she was "ashamed" that President Bush was from her home state of Texas.
I really don't care what she feels about the president ("thinks" is too strong a word); Toby Keith (a lifelong conservative, yellow-dog Democrat) was also opposed to the Iraq war, and I'm sure several other country stars; it was a controversial war, then and especially now. But Keith rightly recognized that he was not a political pundit, he was a singer and songwriter. Maines -- like many rockers and Hollywood celebrities -- mistook fame for intelligence.
From the business point of view, her "offhand" remark was an incredibly stupid thing to say. It's not just saying she is against the war; she said she was "ashamed" of a president who is, on the whole, very well regarded by the country-music fans as a man from the heartland, a man doing his best as he sees it to keep the country safe. Even when they disagree with his decisions, they don't feel "ashamed" that George W. Bush is the president.
And they especially hate it when celebrities go to foreign countries and run down America.
If I were their publicist, I would have been pulling my hair out. On the verge of your huge breakthrough, why go out of your way to insult your fan base? Why didn't they just "shut up and sing," as Laura Ingraham put it in her book of that title?
As surprising as it is, the Chicks honestly never had any idea who their fan base was... or rather, used to be. In a recent CBS 60 minutes segment, Martie Maguire, another member of the group, described their audience as she saw it:
"When I looked out in the audience, I didn't see rednecks," Maquire says with a chuckle. "I saw a more progressive crowd."
"Progressive," of course, means leftist. So Maguire, at least, and probably the other Chicks, thought that they were playing to a huge audience of left-leaning country-music fans. Now, there's perceptiveness for you!
There are some leftist country music performers, notably feminist PETA activist K.D. Lang (who quit country in a blaze of glory, with a couple of hit songs on her CD Ingenue, only to fizzle out as a "torch singer"); paranoid conspiracy theorist and outspoken Sandinista supporter Kris Kristofferson (though he's not particularly current and was never a star as a performer); and the perennial Willie Nelson, who is always current but is having a resurgence right now. Country has always been more tolerant than it was given credit for; but the fans draw the limit at America-bashing... which includes saying snide things about the president just as we're about to go to war.
The best leftist country stars, like Nelson, are more circumspect in their criticism: they don't deny being liberals or leftists, but they also don't shove it down our throats. In fact, I think Kristofferson's big mouth may well have played a roll in his inability ever to achieve the sort of success as a singer that he did as a songwriter for others, and Lang's campaign with PETA against eating meat certainly damaged what until then had been a fantastic country career; it was that reaction against her that caused her to quit country and try to become a pop star, to very little success.
I think Maines, Maguire, and Emily Robison fell into the same trap as Kristofferson and Lang: underestimating the tolerance of the country-music community. They assumed that conservatives couldn't possibly tolerate a person having contrary politics... and therefore the only explanation for the Chicks' success (or that of Kristofferson and Lang) was that country fans were not "rednecks" at all but really "progressives" who agreed with their nutty opinions.
I think the Chicks were genuinely shocked that when they smeared Bush from a London studio, the entire country-music fanbase didn't rise up and cheer them on. Just like all their lefty friends in the rock and roll world did.
Instead, while the fanbase was tolerant enough of someone's politics when he more or less kept it to himself, they were not "progressive" enough to appreciate Maines' smarmy comment in London on the eve of war. The Chicks were shut out from many country radio stations; they received not a single CMA award; and their record sales plummeted, even when a few liberals, who had never listened to a country song in their lives, rushed out to show solidarity and buy the Dixie Chicks' debut CD.
It also didn't help when the Chicks started whining publicly that people loudly objecting to Maines' political statement were violating her "free speech rights."
They have not released a new CD for three years now, though one is going to be released later this month. Maines claims -- not that I really believe it -- she's been receiving "death threats" from angry former fans.
(Have you ever noticed that every leftist who gets in trouble immediately plays the death-threat card? We're supposed to believe that whenever a liberal says something amazingly stupid, angering his former fans, that within days, some right-wing clearing house immediately issues a form-letter death threat.)
So are they now sorry for what Natalie Maines said? Did they learn from their mistakes? Judge for yourself:
Their new CD, called "Taking the Long Way" chronicles all the things that have happened to them, but if you were expecting something just soft and maternal, guess again. One song in particular, a single released six weeks ago, sums up their current state of mind. It’s called "Not Ready to Make Nice."
The song is powerful and unrepentant. The anger isn’t directed at the war or the president — or at their many fans who deserted them. It’s about the hatred, and narrow-minded intolerance they encountered for expressing an opinion.
In other words, it's all about them.
They still don't get it, and neither does CBS. They cannot think of any other reason than "hatred and narrow-minded intolerance" that people might object to them crossing over to England, just before their own country goes to war, and sucking up to the anti-American element there (and in the United States).
Maquire says she is not trying to say the country music audience is mostly rednecks. "But over the years, and especially, since country music's turned into this redneck theme, it's become kind of a negative," she says. "I think for a while, a lot of artists were doing a lot of great things. It was that were broadening the audience. So that country was cool. Because I always thought it was cool. So it makes me sad that it's kind of reverted back to a place that I'm not that proud of. And this is coming from a true country fan. I can't listen to the radio right now."
Trying to sort through this sentence -- I think she tortured the syntax until it screamed for mercy -- Maguire seems to be trying to say that country music used to be broad-based and progressive, but then after 9/11, it suddenly became shamefully pro-America. This is the weirdest reading of the field that I've ever read. The only thing I can think is that Maguire thinks country music used to be socialist because it embraced Woody Guthrie, and that it used to be lesbian (and vegetarian) because it embraced K.D. Lang.
But now, all of a sudden, and for no reason at all, it has become conservative and pro-America -- because it embraces Toby Keith and spurns the Dixie Chicks. (Of course, it's also anti-cancer, because it embraces Rascal Flatts, and it's all in favor of everybody dying -- you know, that whole Brad Paisley, "When I Get Where I'm Going" thing; and actually, it is redneck, because there's always Gretchen Wilson!)
This is an amazingly dumb way to think about a field that has always been more quintessentially American than any other native form of music, including Blues and rock; but if you read the interview, it's obvious that when God was handing out brains, the Chicks were back in the Grievance line getting seconds and thirds.
With this kind or rhetoric, no wonder their songs have not been selling well.
The song ["Not Ready to Make Nice"] fizzled on the charts — yet it's one of most downloaded country songs on the Internet.
"Well, how do you explain the fact that it's No. 37 on the charts and No. 1 in downloads? on iTunes," Kroft asked Maines.
Hm... possibly because most country fans probably don't listen on iPods -- not yet. When they do, we'll see that disparity disappear: such songs will be dogs both in the stores and also via download. Here is a sample of the lyrics:
With no regrets and I don't mind sayin'
It's a sad sad story when a mother will teach her
Daughter that she ought to hate a perfect stranger
And how in the world can the words that I said
Send somebody so over the edge
That they'd write me a letter
Sayin' that I better shut up and sing
Or my life will be over
"Self indulgence" is the phrase that pops immediately to mind. Like "Mother Sheehan," the Chicks see themselves as brave martyrs in the mold of Martin Luther King and John Lennon. (And notice how they very subtlely conflate Laura Ingraham with whomever sent the death threats... if anyone did. Laura's book must have violated their free-speech rights, just like the fan protests.)
Another possible explanation for iPod downloads but no CD-single sales: many might have wanted to see whether the Chicks were ready to make amends with country fans, but they didn't want to pay a bunch of money to find out.
Wise decision... because the Dixie Chicks are not ready for anything, making nice or otherwise. Not only don't they know their own audience, they don't know their country. In both senses of the word.
Hatched by Sachi on this day, May 15, 2006, at the time of 2:37 PM
TrackBack URL for this hissing: http://biglizards.net/mt3.36/earendiltrack.cgi/754
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In my posts Not Ready to Make Amends and Maines Vs. Texas, I talked about the Dixie Chicks' new campaign strategy as left-wing victims. I predicted that their strategy would fail; country fans are never going to embrace the chicks... [Read More]
Tracked on June 8, 2006 11:33 PM
The following hissed in response by: patch
Maybe they can take their clothes off and...
Wait they did that.
Might be beyond help.
The above hissed in response by: patch at May 15, 2006 5:04 PM
The following hissed in response by: Davod
They do not have any political leanings. It was, and still is, all about money.
They made a business decision in London. They pandered to their English fans. They were, and still are (as your descripton of their latest recording shows), shocked that the fans in the US found about what they did.
The following hissed in response by: Dan Kauffman
The Chicks broke THE major down home rule.
They forgot where they came from.
You never take a family squabble to strangers. Trashing your own to outsiders, particularly Big City outsiders, and how much more Big City Outsider can you get than Europe,is an unpardonable Sin.
If I want to hear that CD I feel sure there is some Progessive that will buy it then sell it and I can get it used, not a penny of my money will end up in their hands.
The above hissed in response by: Dan Kauffman at May 15, 2006 5:13 PM
The following hissed in response by: Big D
They will never go away, since progressives (god how I hate that word) will forever trumpet their cause. Of course, they won't sell any records for a long time...and that is just wrong, wrong, wrong.
I'm just guessing, but at some point in the future, when they are no longer sexy, they will suddenly wake up and repent of their sins, trying to relaunch ther careers. It will work to a point, since at least musically they have some talent. They will also have the media always on their side.
The following hissed in response by: FredTownWard
I'm not sure you should really categorize The Ditsy Chicks, the Career Suicide Bombers of the War on Terror, with the likes of even K. D. Lang or Kris Kristofferson. Lang and Kristofferson are arguably more than a little nuts but at least both of them have in some sense of the word "thought" about the issues they got a little crazy about. The most amazing thing about the Ditsy Chicks is the even to this day complete lack of evidence of a "thought" or anything resembling one. They literally appear to be some of the stupidest people alive, and I continue to find it amazing that their tiny brains can keep their legs moving much less carry a tune. I guess they answer definitively the question of whether "singing" has anything to do with intelligence -- apparently not since they can sing.
The funny thing is that I think they will suffer the most because their careers will not end suddenly; they will just gradually and slowly fade away along with their beauty and their talent. They will keep thinking, scratch that, they will keep feeling that their careers are just about to rebound, and then they won't.
My heart bleeds.
The following hissed in response by: Don
"You never take a family squabble to strangers. Trashing your own to outsiders, particularly Big City outsiders, and how much more Big City Outsider can you get than Europe,is an unpardonable Sin."
I think this is very true. We've also been forgetting about the biggest country lefty of them all - Johnny Cash. Cash never had a political problem that I could see.
In part I think it was a matter of style - Cash came off much like a musical John Wayne. But it was also a matter of respect. Cash's attitude was that 'I'm against Vietnam' (and later Iraq) but I never heard him utter a single word disrespectful of anyone who was for those wars in public at least. He went to see Nixon when he was at the height of his fame and pleaded the case of prisoners in the Federal Pen.
Cash may have been out of touch politically with most of his fan base, but a man ha' a right to his own opinions for all that....
The following hissed in response by: Linh_My
Johnny Cash, if I remember correctly went to Viet Nam to entertain the troops. In fact he wrote a song about it "Here in Saigon." Another Lefty country singer that I love is Tom T. Hall
The following hissed in response by: Jorg
Hmm, Dixie Chicks are still so political? It's not possible to listen to them without thinking politics?
I guess it is also something political that Germany sends a native country band to the Eurovision Song Contest.
Contrary to popular belief, many Germans love cowboys, country music and Texas! And more and more Americans love soccer and will watch the World Cup next month. => German-American relations are finally improving again.
I thought you might be interested in my blog post, which includes the Texas Lightning music video:
The above hissed in response by: Jorg at May 16, 2006 5:02 PM
The following hissed in response by: Linh_My
This isn't really about politics. If the Chicks had expressed their political opinions in front of a Texas audience, I don't think that their would have been a problem. My problem is that the Chicks presumed to SPEAK FOR ME in a foreign country and against the United States.
Had they said, "We the Dixie Chicks hate G. W, Bush." no problem. What they said is that, "the people of Texas are ashamed of G.W, Bush."
We the people of Texas DID NOT elect them spokespersons for Texas. At least I do not remember that being on the ballet when I voted during that time frame in Texas. I guess that they fell that God spoke to them personally and anointed them his spokespeople.
Now my family moved to Texas in 1851, so I'm a bit of a newcomer to Texas. But, my impression of Texans is that they do not like self appointed activists telling the world that they represent the beliefs of Texas. Now with only 155 years of family residence in Texas, I realize that the views that I am expressing do not represent the "views of Texas." Still, from the effects on the Chicks careers, there may be a few other Texans who agree with me. There might even be one or two non Texan Country Music fans that also agree.
The following hissed in response by: Dan Kauffman
2006 Taking The Long Way Top Country Albums #69
Well the Chicks are back on the Billboard Charts
The above hissed in response by: Dan Kauffman at May 24, 2006 9:11 PM
The following hissed in response by: Lawesey
Why should the dixie Chicks just shut up and sing? America is a country that prides itself on freedom, liberty and equality and never tires of proudly announcing that to the rest of the world, but it isn't really true is it?
If this was truly a land of liberty and freedom, then EVERYONE could be able to stand up to a president that invaded a sovereign country for oil and not weapons of mass destruction. Why stop playing their records? Why stop buying their records? Natalie as an American citizen, has every right to her political views and if the country is truly democratic, then its people will say politely "I tend to disagree but I love your music and your entitled to your views." Punishing her for her views is like the school yard bully who forces the kid into saying what he - the bully - wants to hear....
The following hissed in response by: scarecrowstrawberryfield
Chicks can say anything they want. But they have no right to demand that their fans continue buying their CDs or concert tickets. Afterall we have the right not to associate with people we don't like. If they cannot take the heat, they should shut up and sing. Don't you think?
The above hissed in response by: scarecrowstrawberryfield at June 25, 2007 8:11 PM
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