Shut Up and Sing
"Just so you know, we're on
the good side with y'all. We do not want this war, this violence.
And we're ashamed that the
President of the United States is from Texas."
It seems like a rather
innocuous statement. Much worse is said by people all over the world
Other musicians have come out with much more incendiary statements.
However, this political opinion, voiced by Dixie Chicks lead singer Natalie Maines during a 2003 London concert, nearly destroyed the group's career.
In the notoriously
red-state friendly country music world, suddenly Maines and the Chicks --
who were arguably the biggest act in Nashville at the time -- became
persona non grata amongst their genre base just because she had the
nerve to speak out about George W. Bush.
Country radio blacklisted
its most popular group. Mobs of people protested their shows and
burned their CDs. Concert sales slowed significantly. They even
received death threats. Talking heads like Bill O'Reilly and Pat
Robertson vilified the group for having a point of view. Even Bush got
in on the scrum -- suggesting condescendingly in an interview that the Dixie
Chicks had the right to give their opinion, but they shouldn't get their
feelings hurt if
others had the right to reject them for it.
Shut Up and Sing
chronicles three crazy years in the lives of a band that up until this
blow-up was probably most remarkable for their lack of controversy.
Natalie Maines, Emily Robison and Martie Maguire were just pretty, talented,
traditional country musicians who became the biggest selling all-female
group in music. They were never a political band, in fact they never
had much of an agenda nor were they particularly outspoken about war and
violence (unless you count killing no-good-slimy husbands; a time-honored
tradition for C&W songbirds.)
So at first, when on the
eve of the war in Iraq, Maines made her statement it seemed to be no story.
However, it was seized upon by a holier-than-thou conservative site (a site,
by the way, whose contributors have stolen artwork from us several times --
so much for your moral superiority...) which found the quote in a British
review of the concert and turned it into a self-righteous crusade.
Famed documentarian Barbara
Kopple happened to be on-hand working on a tour film about the band at the
London show when the tempest blew up. The film became much different
than any of them could ever have imagined. It goes back and forth
between the band enduring the slings and arrows of the right in 2003 to the
2005-2006 recording of the defiantly unapologetic album Taking the Long Way,
which took on the controversy directly with the single "Not Ready To
In this time, Robison and Maguire stand by their singer
(they never quite come out and say whether they agree with her viewpoints,
but they fiercely protect her right to have and express them) as
their careers -- which had seemed to be going well -- quickly jumped the track.
However, impressively, the film shows the three women as they endure the
slings and arrows, but do not cave in to all the pressure placed upon them. Eventually, the group was forced to essentially abandon their country music
roots and search out a new audience in different areas and demographics.
Most harrowingly, it paints
a dismal picture of the freedoms of speech and expression in the Bush
administration. If smart, sensible, normal people like Maines, Robison
and Maguire can be pilloried for their political beliefs, what chances do
others have? The whole thing had the stink of a high-tech lynching.
The Dixie Chicks were going to be made an example by a group of extremists.
Even the plummeting poll ratings of Bush and his war have not nearly
undone the damage.
Less than a week before
this documentary was to be released on DVD, the Dixie Chicks swept the
Grammy Awards -- winning the top three statuettes for Song of the Year,
Album of the Year and Artist of the Year. It seems like a victory for
the band and their decision to stand by their beliefs. Still, the
winning album, despite some of the best reviews of their career, sold
significantly less than the Chicks' previous CDs and their most recent tour
was troubled by sluggish sales. So, is there a real winner in this
Copyright ©2007 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
Posted: February 17, 2007.