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Asymmetry: Pearl Jam vs. Dixie Chicks

Pearl Jam speaks out on the impale-Bush-mask-at-concert incident:

    There were close to 12,000 people at the April 1st Denver show. It’s possible two dozen left during encore but it was not noticeable amongst the 11,976 who were loudly applauding and enjoying the evening’s music. It just made a better headline to report otherwise. [You’ll note the writer doesn’t mention this in his review of the show from the day prior. See “Pearl Jam Show Will Make a Great CD” by Mark Brown, Rocky Mountain News. And it is little more than a mention in any of the show reviews.] review, review

    Dissension is nothing we shy away from – it should just be reported about more accurately. Ed’s talk from the stage centered on the importance of freedom of speech and the importance of supporting our soldiers as well as an expression of sadness over the public being made to feel as though the two sentiments can’t occur simultaneously.

Pity the poor Dixie Chicks: it says reams about the diverse sociology of country and alt-rock music fans that the Chicks have been vilified, burned in effigy, boycotted, denigrated, debated ad nauseum for one member making an anti-Bush statement from the stage in London, whereas Eddie Vedder impales a mask of Bush on a mike stand and it gets barely a ripple: “oh that’s just Eddie, you know how these rock stars are…”

Looked at another way, we have had several posts on the Dixie Chicks incident and aftermath – in approximate chronological order they are:
The Dixie Chicks’ Deep Political Thought
Country Fans Not Happy With Dixie Chick
Dixie Chick Damage Control
Travis Tritt Not Happy With Dixie Chicks
Positively the Last Word on the Dixie Chicks [it wasn’t] What She Really Said
Dixie Chick Defenders Need to Learn Some Manners
The Song Not the Singer

Between these eight posts, there are over 600 comments, and they are still coming. There are over 300 on What She Really Said (the Dixie Chicks apology parody) alone. In fact, there were so many comments we ran out of room and the post broke halfway through a comment.

Contrast this with Pearl Jam: they sang an anti-Bush song in which the lead singer stuck a mask of the president on a pole, like Lord of the Flies, in a gesture of grandiose contempt. There have been TWO comments on our post about that. TWO – talk about asymmetry! Natalie Maines apologized for her remarks the very next day – you just read Pearl Jam’s non-apology.

The obvious answer is that country music fans expect something different from their stars than do alt-rock fans, who still trade in rebellion, even if by now it is a very attenuated and stylized form of rebellion. Country stars are supposed to be about patriotism, core American values, loyalty, respect for tradition (in addition to drinking, fighting and cheating, but that’s another story), all of which was violated by Natalie Maines’ ill-advised comments – country fans perceived this as treachery: “you aren’t who we thought you were.” “you have turned on us and our values as well the the president.”

Another issue was timing: Maines comments came just before the onset of war – the time of greatest anxiety and uncertainty, Vedder’s action came with the war well underway and pretty well in hand. Maines couldn’t have picked a worse time, with military loved ones streaming out of the country to an uncertain fate, allies unexpectedly turning against us, anti-war protests around the globe.

Another mitigating factor in Vedder’s behalf – it came within the context of a performance, it was part of a song, it was theater:

    Pearl Jam fans in Denver witnessed the band at their most politically incorrect when the American tour started April 1. Eddie Vedder impaled a mask of George Dubya on his microphone.

    Of course, right wing American press are reporting shock, horror and despair for the crowd but the reality was only dozens walked out of the show.

    The Pepsi Theatre in Denver holds a capacity 18,000 fans so it would appear that the Bush backers were far outnumbered by the Pearl Jam fans.

    The Bush mask performance came in the first encore of the show during the song ‘Bushleaguer’ from their new album Riot Act. The song is blatantly anti-Bush with the lyrics “A confidence man, but why so beleagued? / He’s not a leader, he’s a Texas leaguer”.

    Although an irrelevant number left the show following the comments, the Rocky Mountain News reported that many in the crowd cheered Vedder’s actions. For his detractors Eddie commented to the crowd “I don’t know if you’ve heard about this thing called freedom of speech. It’s worth thinking about, because it’s going away.” [Undercover]

Maines made her statement as an aside between songs:

    The trio performed a live show in London on Monday (March 10th) night, and Natalie Maines told the crowd, “Just so you know, we’re ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas.” [Yahoo!]

So it was jarring and without context, without the buffer of art.

A final irony: it is the perception of music that appears to be more important than the reality. The Chicks – while working from a firm bluegrass foundation venture quite far into pop-rock with their very commercial and slick sound, and Pearl Jam is not alien to the twang: one of their biggest hits, “Daughter,” is a flat out country song that could have been a huge hit on pop-Nashville country radio had it been sung by a hat. Ponder that one a while.

About Eric Olsen

Career media professional and serial entrepreneur Eric Olsen flung himself into the paranormal world in 2012, creating the America's Most Haunted brand and co-authoring the award-winning America's Most Haunted book, published by Berkley/Penguin in Sept, 2014. Olsen is co-host of the nationally syndicated broadcast and Internet radio talk show After Hours AM; his entertaining and informative America's Most Haunted website and social media outlets are must-reads: [email protected], Facebook.com/amhaunted, Pinterest America's Most Haunted. Olsen is also guitarist/singer for popular and wildly eclectic Cleveland cover band The Props.

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