The Dixie Chicks and Our First Amendment Rights
Isn't it weird how you can love something and forget about it for awhile, and then have it be immediately rekindled when you experience it again? It's been like three years since the Dixie Chicks put out a new album, and I hadn't listened to them in ages. Then, today, I clicked over to the AV Club and saw this: Dixie Chicks, Badass Motherf**ckers. Yes, that's really the title. It's a write-up from Nathan Rabin, one of their music guys, who's trying to educate himself in country, as he realizes that just because the Dixie Chicks are cute doesn't mean they're not awesome.
I read the thing, I watched all the embedded videos (haven't seen "Goodbye Earl" in awhile?), and then I was seized by the desire to rewatch Shut Up and Sing, a documentary about the band trying to come back from the unexpected controversy that was generated over an off-the-cuff remark during a concert in 2003.
Rabin seems to be positioning most of the vitriol that was directed at the Chicks as based on them being women—pretty, (mostly) blonde, popular chicks. They're supposed to be wholesome, they're not supposed to have opinions at all, and certainly not divisive ones. Watching the movie again (which, of course, I did), I think Rabin is really on to something.
Here's my favorite moment in Shut Up and Sing, as the Chicks and their manager discuss how they're going to be promoting Taking the Long Way, their first album after the shitstorm. An unofficial boycott is still keeping them off country radio and television.
Simon, the Chicks’ manager: They [Sony] wanna have us doing as much TV as we can get done, so let me throw out some TV ideas for you – Um, The View, if it was just an interview with Barbara Walters and if we went in and we did the production.
Emily shakes head. No one says anything.
Simon: Regis and Kelly?
Martie: Well, tell us with each show, what’s mandatory performance?
Natalie: Can I just throw this out there? I just—why can’t we—can we decide what kind of artists we want to be right now?
Natalie: Can we be the Bruce Springsteen, and the Bob Dylan?—NOT that I’m comparing ourselves or our music to them—but do we have to be on everything that’ll “let us” be on? I just don’t care.
It's so true, and that's why this has always been my favorite moment in the movie. There is so much precedent out there for male recording artists (and actors and writers and so on) who say whatever they want, who are allowed to cultivate a "rebel" image, and who are not then asked to go make inoffensive banter with Regis and Kelly so that people don't feel too threatened by them. I love so much that Natalie raises that question—I love so much that the movie raises that question.
I also think that's a large part of what makes Taking the Long Way so great—it has such a strong point of view. There's this way that the media has sometimes of dismissing female artists, writing them off as the trick pony of some Big Time Producer in cowboy boots. Shut Up and Sing will attest that the Chicks talk a lot about their music and their direction, and what they stand for, and who and what they're performing for.
There's a lot more I want to write about on this subject, notably how much the popular music industry depends upon artists who don't fit in most or any of those categories. But it's pretty late and Skylar is having a thunder-induced hissy fit, so I'll sum up for now: being in charge of one's own artistic destiny is cool. I love the Chicks' music. I want to hang out with Natalie Maines all the time. The music industry itself is a way bigger issue that I will maybe get to someday.
For now, "Not Ready to Make Nice" baby!