Sunday, May 28, 2006

How do you like your Chicks?

It is rare that I rush out the first day a CD or DVD goes on sale and buy it. It's usually not that important to me. But on Tuesday, when the Dixie Chicks' new album "Taking the Long Way" was released, I did make a special trip to the store to pick up a copy.

I had purchased and downloaded their new single, "Not Ready to Make Nice," from iTunes a few weeks ago. Although I had only listened to it a time or two, I had heard enough in the song to tell me that I wanted to hear the new CD. Lead singer Natalie Maines' vocals sounded as powerful as ever and I've been a fan of their music for years.

I didn't think too much about the controversy that had surrounded the group a few years ago. Maines, a Texas native, pissed off a lot of people with a comment during a concert in Europe where she said: "Just so you know, we're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas." Her comments came at a concert in London on March 10, 2003, just 10 days before Bush launched Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Country music radio and many fans reacted with outrage. Dixie Chicks music was pulled from the air on stations all over the country.

Now, here we are three years later and armed U.S. troops are still in Iraq, still fighting and dying, and Bush's popularity has faded tremendously, as has U.S. citizen support for the war in Iraq.

But the Dixie Chicks' music is still not back on radio. Not their monster hits from years past, nor their newest single. According to an article in the May 29 issue of Time magazine, country fans and radio stations are still holding a grudge.

One country music radio programmer who was quoted, but not named, in the Time magazine cover story said the new single is "a four-minute fuck-you to the format and our listeners. I like the Chicks and I won't play it."

Well, anyone who won't listen to the Dixie Chicks, or play their music, or buy their album because of their politics is welcome to their opinion, but I find it all pretty funny, is a sad sort of way.

I don't often talk about politics on my blog or in my personal life, because I think people get stupid when it comes to politics. Everything in partisan politics get painted with a very broad brush, but the real artistry of statesmanship, and life, is in the details.

Life doesn't fit in tidy packages. Republican or Democrat. Red state or Blue state. Conservative or liberal. Pro-life or pro-choice. NRA or anti-gun. Rock or country. Pop or rap. East or West. North or South. White or black.

The last few times I've registered to vote I have not picked a political party to affiliate with. The truth is, I don't feel either of the major political parties represents me. I can be quite conservative on some issues and quite liberal on others. I certainly don't fit into the base of support for either party. And frankly the parties don't seem to know what they believe in either. The Republican party, which austensibly believes in smaller government, has in the current administration eroded personal liberties and allowed government to snoop on its citizens in the name of national security. And Democrats can't seem to do anything to set their own agenda except to be against whatever Republicans are espousing.

But what I find most amusing about this whole flap over the Dixie Chicks and their music is that people get so fired up over it, and yet it's a safe bet that many of them who get so passionate in their support for, or boycott of, a singing group's music probably don't even bother to vote with regularity.

Entertainers, like the rest of us, are entitled to their opinion. And thankfully freedom of speech, though perhaps an endangered species, is still allowed in this country. However, that does not mean that freedom always comes without pain or sacrifice or the slings and arrows thrown from others.

Another irony of this whole Dixie Chicks flap is that before the whole dust-up over the comment about the president, the Chicks and singer Toby Keith also got into a running public pissing match starting in August 2002 over comments Maines made about Keith's song "Courtesy of the Red, White & Blue (The Angry American)" in which Keith tells terrorists that the United States will fight back and put a boot in their ass.

Maines called the song ignorant. Keith shot back at Maines' abilities as a songwriter.

The irony is that Keith and Maines and the rest of the Chicks may be a lot closer in their politics than one might imagine. Keith, who is a Democrat, has also expressed reservations about the war in Iraq, even though he has been unflagging in his support for U.S. troops and was supportive of the U.S. action in Afghanistan.

Not all country music singers are Republicans. Tim McGraw is another high-profile Democrat in country music. And believe it or not, not all country music fans are Republicans either.

And that's the whole point. Stereotypes don't always fit.

Now the question is, where will the Dixie Chicks fit in the American music landscape. The group features a Southern twang and country instrumentation, but will country music accept them back? Or are they pop now? The Time magazine article says their new album "may be the best adult pop CD of the year." But the magazine also asks the question "Will anyone buy it?"

Well, sure some people will buy it, but will it sell millions of copies like previous albums have? That still remainst to be scene. The Chicks themselves seem prepared to accept a smaller fan base.

"I'd rather have a smaller following of really cool people who get it, who will grow with us as we grow and are fans for life, and people that have us in their five-disc changer with Reba McEntire and Toby Keith," said Martie Maguire of the Dixie Chicks. "We don't want those kinds of fans. They limit what you can do."

Well, Martie, I have news for you. I've retired my five-disc changer, but my iPod does have Dixie Chicks, Toby Keith and Reba McEntire in it. Of course it has other stuff too, like Foo Fighters, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Aerosmith. There rock, pop, blues, alternative and country

For me, I don't pick my music based on politics any more than I vote for politicians based on their musical tastes.

I still need to listen to the album a few more times to determine whether it will become a favorite, or whether it will fade into the background amid the hundreds of other CDs in my collection. But for now, it is in high rotation on the ol' iPod. If I like it enough I may even consider buying a ticket to their concert when they come to Portland in November. And if I don't like it enough, my music and concert money will be spent elsewhere, based on how the music resonates with me and my life, not pampered singers want me to vote.

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1 comment:

GRT said...

They were featured on some interview show last week. They have really white teeth!!!

I don't mind their politics. I prefer theirs to the political games being played by pandering pols. For instance, the legislation signed today does more violence to the Constitution than Phelps' demonstrations do. I wouldn' urinate on Phelps if he were on fire (one wonders why he doesn't become a textbook example of spontaneous combustion--what with all the hate burning in him), but shutting him up or off is contrary to just about everything the 1st Amentment is all about, isn't it? Yet the DC's records don't get played.

Is a puzzlement!

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