A rather self-congratulatory update on the Dixie Chicks from the UK’s Guardian:
- Ever since Natalie Maines, the Dixie Chicks’ lead singer, told a London audience they were “ashamed that the president of the United States of America is from Texas”, the group has found itself in the eye of a storm that has threatened to destroy their careers. The comment, made last March during a concert at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, three days before America and Britain went to war in Iraq, was applauded by the audience.
The American ambassador to Britain didn’t appear overly offended and, after the show, asked to have his photograph taken with the trio. But when a review of the concert in the Guardian, the only newspaper whose critic reported the comment, was picked up by a country-music website in Nashville, all hell broke lose. Before you could say shock and awe, Clear Channel, which owns 1,200 radio stations in America and helped to fund Bush’s election campaign, had banned Dixie Chicks records from the airwaves “out of respect for our troops and our listeners”. Cumulus Media, the second largest radio conglomerate, with 270 stations, also banned them, while right-wing press commentators had a field day denouncing them as traitors and dubbing the group “the Dixie Sluts” and “Saddam’s Angels”.
Not shy to let us know they were the only paper to report Natalie’s statement, are they? They don’t pretend to be neutral either:
- The obnoxiously gung-ho country singer Toby Keith (who, in the wake of 9/11, scored a country number one with an offensive record called Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American), which threatened “we’ll put a boot in your ass, it’s the American way”, launched his own anti-Chicks crusade. His shows now feature a backdrop depicting Maines and Saddam Hussein as lovers. Another image has her face superimposed on the body of a toad.
In conservative country-music circles, Keith’s crude attacks have gone uncriticised. But Maines faced a fresh backlash when she responded by turning up to a country music awards ceremony wearing a T-shirt bearing the slogan: “f.u.t.k.”
And, remarkably, the reporter blames this episode on the Chicks’ backlash:
- Standing in line at Cincinnati airport, an immigration officer asks the purpose of our visit. When we tell him we’re here to interview the Texan trio, he refrains from spitting on federal property. But you can hear the sound of phlegm gathering in the back of his throat. “They should string those girls up,” he snarls.
Before we know it, we’ve been hauled off to have our bags searched and we miss our connecting flight to Memphis, where the Chicks are playing the following night. Welcome to America.
Yet for all of that, other than immediately after the storm in March, there seems to have been little lasting effect on the Chicks’ sales or ability to draw live – every single one of their shows on this tour has been sold out. Other than the deranged, I don’t think anyone gives a damn anymore.
Interestingly, after an initial apology for the statement, the Chicks have become more defiant over time:
- As Trotsky once observed, the proletariat is radicalised by experience of the struggle. And while many have abused and reviled the Chicks, to others they have become a cause célèbre.
Bruce Spingsteen was one of the first to post a message of support on his website. Dolly Parton has also told her fans they should carry on buying Dixie Chicks records. More significantly, political support has grown since early July, when the group’s English-born manager, Simon Renshaw, testified before a congressional committee looking into the future of the radio industry.
He revealed that his office had received death threats, and offered evidence that right-wing organisations had orchestrated the campaign. He complained that the group’s rights under the first amendment had been abused, and that “artistic freedom, cultural enlightenment and political discourse” had been undermined.
Many agreed. One committee member, Barbara Boxer, a Democratic senator from California, likened the corporate radio ban to Nazi Germany and the McCarthyite witch-hunts of the 1950s and called it “a chilling message to people that they ought to shut up”.
….Their anger at Bush is now expressed in far stronger and more coherent terms than the original off-the-cuff comment. “We were told the official White House quote on our ordeal,” Maines recalls. “I thought it was going to be something empowering about the first amendment and our rights as American citizens. I don’t know why I thought such an educated thing could have come out of there. Instead it was, ‘Their fans have spoken.'”
“Which makes your mind go back to the death threats and the trashing of Emily’s ranch and the corporate banning,” says Maguire. “So is the President condoning those things?” Robison demands.
“He was asked about the end of the war in Iraq, and he said, ‘Freedom is a beautiful thing and these people now have a right to speak and we’ve given them that’,” recalls Maines. “It was everything he should have said when he was asked about us.”
That might be a bit much to expect, don’t you think? But it would have looked much better had Bush been magnanimous about it.
As I have said all along that I disagreee with Maines’ original statement: it was pandering to the crowd in England and in poor taste on the verge of war. But it also wasn’t that big a deal. It never should have blossomed into a feeding frenzy, the media bans were completely unwarranted and dispicable, and the issue was clearly wrung for all it was worth by pro-war, pro-Bush, and those who wanted to avail themselves of these feelings (Clear Channel) elements.
I have no problem with individual radio stations reacting (wussing out) to legitimate complaints by actual listeners, but sweeping bans across hundreds of stations by corporate fiat in hope of currying political favor is reason alone to break up the chains. And for Keith and other country music establishment elements to latch on to this to rouse the rabble is worse pandering than the original Chicks’ statement.
I still think Maines has problems with coherency but I admire her gumption, and for the Chicks to turn this into a free speech matter is perspicacious and more legitimate than not, given the treatment they have received. Rock on Chickies.