American Culture

Still not ready to make nice: what does the Dixie Chicks saga tell us about freedom in America?

We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas. – Natalie Maines

I don’t even know the Dixie Chicks, but I find it an insult for all the men and women who fought and died in past wars when almost the majority of America jumped down their throats for voicing an opinion. It was like a verbal witch-hunt and lynching. – Merle Haggard

Last night over dinner the subject of The Dixie Chicks came up, and I got mad all over again. Which is unfortunate, because when you think about artists that talented the last thing on your mind ought to be anger. But still, it’s been six long years now since “the top of the world came crashing down,” and I can’t quite free myself of my rage at the staggering ignorance that led so many Americans to piss on the 1st Amendment by attempting to destroy the careers of Natalie Maines, Martie Maguire and Emily Robinson. Frankly, I don’t know how Natalie can make it through a performance of “The Long Way Around” or “Not Ready to Make Nice” because I can barely listen to the songs without wanting to take a folding chair to every goddamned corporate radio executive and program director in America responsible for driving them from the airwaves.

No doubt that this makes me a lesser man than I should be. I can’t imagine that the Chicks would approve of my violent impulses (which, I have to admit, are a little too literal for my own comfort), given the grace with which they have navigated the turbulence surrounding their lives in recent years. In truth, they haven’t taken the long way around so much as they have taken the high road, and I regret that I’m not quite worthy of the example they have set for those of us trying to lead civilized lives in the midst of so much willful ignorance.

In recognition of their willingness to risk their careers speaking truth to power and for their courage in facing the backlash (which included death threats, let’s remember) that’s all too frequently aimed at uppity women in the less advanced corners of our nation, Scholars & Rogues is proud to honor The Dixie Chicks as our latest Scrogues and accord them a place in our masthead of fame.

And, if it isn’t obvious, then I’ll apologize in advance for not being up to the standards that Natalie, Martie and Emily have set. They’re not to blame for my tribute to them.

What Did the War on The Dixie Chicks Teach Us About Our Freedoms?

Some time back I read a story in the international press about the rise of fundamentalist Islam in one of Europe’s leading nations – I believe it was the Netherlands, but can’t recall for certain. They’re apparently facing the prospect that one day this minority could grow to the point where it could go to the polls and, using the legitimate engines of the democratic system available to it, vote to eradicate the nation’s religious freedoms. A politician was asked what should be done in this case. His answer was that nothing should be done – it must be allowed, since it would be the result of a democratic process.

Quite a conundrum, that. What to do when democracy is used to dispose of democracy? Obviously America is under no immediate threat from organized Islamist voters, but we do have our own Christian Taliban problem, don’t we? What should we, here in the Land of the Free®, think about those who do not value actual freedom of religion? How many Americans would we send off to die to preserve the free speech rights of those who’d squelch the free speech rights of their fellow citizens? What should a true patriot do when confronted with the reality that the tools of liberty are being used against Lady Liberty herself?

My own code of ethics has always said that you cannot allow a barbarian to use your civilization as a weapon against you. A man who insists on fighting according to a set of honorable rules while his opponent is using a tire iron to liquefy his testicles deserves what happens to him. In my angrier moments I’ve said that no, you don’t fight fire with fire. You fight fire with a flamethrower.

But that’s just me, and you’ll recall from earlier that I’m perhaps not to be taken as a role model. Still, we do live in a nation with many who do not share our respect for Constitutional freedoms. Exactly how many I can’t say, but I feel comfortable with “millions and millions.” It’s certain that without such people we’d not have had to endure eight years of Bush/Cheney thuggery.

I’m Not Ready to Make Nice

I made my bed and I sleep like a baby
With no regrets and I don’t mind sayin’
It’s a sad sad story when a mother will teach her
Daughter that she ought to hate a perfect stranger
And how in the world can the words that I said
Send somebody so over the edge
That they’d write me a letter
Sayin’ that I better shut up and sing
Or my life will be over

I’m not ready to make nice
I’m not ready to back down
I’m still mad as hell and
I don’t have time to go round and round and round
It’s too late to make it right
I probably wouldn’t if I could
‘Cause I’m mad as hell
Can’t bring myself to do what it is you think I should

This was the message – “shut up and sing.” You’re not being paid to think, you mouthy little bitches, you’re being paid to entertain us. Now dance, girlies. God Bless America.

History will validate, with a minimum of controversy, the sentiments Natalie Maines expressed at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire theatre on March 10, 2003. Hopefully the record will point to our present moment and note that already the momentum had shifted and that within a generation people would have an impossible time imagining how such an affront to freedom was ever possible. Hopefully.

For the time being, “mad as hell” doesn’t begin to describe the indignation that those of us working to move this culture forward by promoting genuinely intelligent and pro-human values ought to feel, even now. I won’t tell you how to think and act, of course – you have a conscience and a brain, and you can be trusted to take in the information and perspectives around you and form an opinion that you can live by.

But for my part, I have a message for the “shut up and sing” crowd: I’m not ready to back down and I never will be. Your values are at odds with the principles upon which this nation was founded and true liberty cannot survive if your brand of flag-waving ignorance is allowed to thrive. You will not be allowed to use the freedoms that our founders fought for as weapons to stifle freedom for others.

You have declared a culture war, so here’s where the lines are drawn: I’m on the side of enlightenment, free and informed expression and the power of pro-humanist pursuits to produce a better society where we all enjoy the fruits of our shared accomplishments.

What side are you on?

40 replies »

  1. That song was about so much more than what the Chix were going through.

    Remember 2003. It all comes back with sickening clarity whenever I pull out my DVD of “Shut Up and Sing.” That was a bad year for America, with know-nothing faux “patriotism” running amok, the very air dripping with smug self-righteousness and ecstatic Bush-worship, and too many of our fellow citizens all too eager to silence those of us who dared to dissent. The mood of the country was so frightening that, so help me God, we packed up our children and moved to Canada that next winter. I will never forget what that red-and-white Maple Leaf banner meant to me that first week in January 2004, flying crisp and proud against blue sky and white mountains in the frigid breeze. It meant that there was still somewhere on this earth that the things I understood as American still existed — even though they didn’t exist in America any more. I wasn’t afraid of terrorists, but my fellow Americans scared the holy shit out of me. It was like seeing my dad come home with that certain look on his face: I knew, all too well, what they were capable of when they got this way.

    That song was the first (and for a long while, the only) sign that there might be life in the left even yet — a full-throated, furious roar of people who would not allow themselves to be silenced, goddamit, no matter what it cost them to speak out. Even now, when I hear it, I wish I was in an arena somewhere with about ten thousand of you, singing it with all my heart, pushing back with our voices against the darkness that came so close to swallowing us. There’s something fierce and recognizably Scots-Irish about it: I don’t care who the hell you are, you cannot shut me up or take away my country without a fight. Live free or die. Don’t tread on me.

    (And do not, for even a moment, make the mistake of supposing that if you shoot at me, I won’t shoot back. If there’s a moment of hesitation, it’s only because I’m lining up my shot. I’m careful, and I don’t usually miss.)

    The song deserves to be a permanent part of our progressive songbook,right there next to “This Land Is Your Land” and “Bread and Roses” and “I’m the Man Who Built the Bridges” and the Alice’s Restaurant Massacree. And the Fixin’-to-Die Rag. You have your favorites. We need to be singing them all to our children and grandchildren, so they’ll have them in their hearts when their own turn comes, and they need that dose of musical courage to get on with doing what must be done. This wasn’t just a pop song: it was an anthem for American generations to come.

    Not ready to make nice, no. You sons of bitches fucked up my country — the one ten generations of my ancestors fought and died for, from the Revolution forward — so badly that I couldn’t bear to raise my children there. I will never forgive you for that. Not ready to back down, either. And still mad as hell, too.

    In 2009, “not ready to make nice” might be interpreted as “this isn’t over until the bastards who did it are hauled up in court.” Obama’s not going to do it for us, but this won’t be over until someone finally does. It’s not too late to make it right, and we’d best be getting on with the job.

  2. Natalie Maines’ “I’m ashamed” comment in was not what led to the coordinated attack on the Chicks. It was the fact that their song very effective and emotional song, “Traveling Soldier” was number one on the country music hit parade at the time we were getting ready to go into Iraq. This was not to be tolerated, they had to be trashed, and Toby Keith exaulted. More here:

  3. I think all the controversy actually helped what I considered a very mediocre album. Most classic country stars end up pissing of the Nashville establishment then are rewarded once the old people who run it die off. I predict in 20 years they well be considered the greatest country act of their generation. On a separate note, Natalie Maines cut her hair and actually looks like Matt Damon now.

  4. Nobody “drove them from the airwaves” – it’s called the free market. Nobody made them quit singing or recording, or stopped them from putting their CD’s in the stores,or took away any of their freedoms. People just chose not to buy the CD’s, and some radio stations chose not to play them. That’s their freedom to choose too. Freedom of speech does not promise freedom from suffering the consequences of what you say! I liked their music, but will never buy a CD after they said they didn’t want the kind of people who listen to Toby Keith and Reba McEntire listening to them! Suits me!

  5. Ya those 5 Grammy’s that Album won were for it being mediocre…

    • LOL: I disagree with Darrell’s assessment of the record – I thought it was outstanding. But to suggest that winning Grammys proves the point is one of the funniest things I’ve heard in a long time. The Grammys are, and have been, and will continue to be, a sad joke when it comes to rewarding good work. The only real question is whether it’s a bigger travesty than the RNR Hall of Fame.

      So if you’re going to make an argument about the critical value of something, please, get a real standard. Otherwise everyone will be LOL at you.

  6. You have every right in the world to delete my comment and ban me! That doesn’t kick me off the internet, or stop me from going to other sites or blogs, or take any rights from me. And, if it was really important to me to be able to come to this blog, I would apologize to you for anything I said that was insulting, and try to avoid it in the future, or as long as I wanted to be able to come here. That’s how business works. Do you think that people should be forced to buy CD’s, or listen to music they don’t want to listen to? Their record label still produced the CD’s, and the stores still put them on the shelves, and the Grammy judges gave them 5 Grammies!

    • Good answer. But now, let’s go a step further. What if I did own the whole Internet and banned you from that? And that I owned so many of the possible outlets – newspapers, magazines, radio and TV stations, etc. – that I could fix it so that you were reduced to shouting your opinion on streetcorners and that was about it?

      This is closer to what was done to the Chicks than my earlier scenario, which was more like being banned from one radio station. Your free market rage (yes, I read an Ayn Rand book, too) only works when the system hasn’t been consolidated and corporatized to the point that ours has.

      The fun part, of course, is that our grand new era of heavy-handed censorship was brought to you primarily by the party that stands for that wonderful free market of yours.

      Damn, I love irony.

  7. And let’s not forget to put this in the context of the times. A time when people were putting American flags on their cars like they do when the local team is in the playoffs. A time when fools were still terrified that their favorite strip-mall in Topeka was going to be attacked by an Al Queda suicide bomber. A time when the government was still suggesting that we should stock up on 3mil plastic sheeting and duck tape to protect us from bio-chem attacks by the evil doers.

    A yes, the good ole days when people claimed PTSD from watching a terrorist attack on television.

    That the Chicks were even heard above the war drums is amazing; that they were singled out for “free-market” repression as if their loose lips might sink ships in the Clash of Civilizations is hardly surprising.

    Their stand was principled…something so out of style in the US that we might call it anachronistic.

  8. Lex,

    Actually, it is possible to acquire PTSD from watching an event on television. The issue is the amount of internalization going on, and the amount of fear response. It would be unusual, but not at all impossible, I think.


    Good answer to Lyndra. Just to add a framework, it seems to me that the issue of free speech is that one should be free to say what one likes (with certain obvious restrictions such as screaming “Fire!” in a crowded theater or perjury, etc.) without becoming the hapless victim of concentrated power, whether that’s governmental power or commercial power or societal power, or what have you. The Constitution obviously restricts the gummint, but law surrounding the exercise of other kinds of power are less defined. In this case, as you have pointed out, commercial power decided to deprive the Dixie Chicks of the opportunity to earn a living plying their trade because they didn’t like what one of the Dixie Chicks said.

    I think it’s high time we, as a society, through our lawmakers, decided what is an acceptable response from power towards people who make unpopular statements, and what is not acceptable. For instance, I won’t pay to see another Mel Gibson movie because I’m convinced that he’s an anti-Semite at best, and a neo-Nazi at worst. But if I owned a substantial number of movie theaters, I would not ban his films from them. That would be going way over the line.

  9. I don’t think that we should ban Linda comments, we should listen poltiely (not an internet sort of thing), and disagree. My daughter played this CD for me when it came out, and I bought it in support of the stand that the group had taken. The US may be my country, right or wrong, but I much prefer right, and I will work to change it. I am an Iowan, and I paid close attention and worked in the recent presidential selection process to choose a government that would end the deceit and jingoism of the Bush years. They were not good for the US or the world.

  10. What he said…. Agree completely with the anger at the treatment of The Dixie Chicks by the media, the radio stations, the press, and the people too stupid to understand why you must have a right to express yourself. Not often I find myself in complete agreement with Dr. Slammy, but this is one of those times.
    As has been said in the past, I may not agree with what you are saying, but I will die to protect your right to say it.

    bonafide, lol’ing ur pols pho paws!

  11. As far as I know, only country stations quit playing their music, and only a few of them. I heard them on many country stations, even while they were banned from others. In the small market where I live we have 2 country stations – one quit playing them and the other didn’t. They were still played on the rock and pop stations, and CMT and GAC still played, and still play, their videos. Nobody made them quit recording or touring. All they had to do is continue, and their fans would have continued to buy their CD’s and go to their concerts. They made the choice to quit.

    • Ummm, quit? Lynda, do you even know who we’re talking about here? Unless you know something I don’t, the Chicks didn’t quit anything.

      In any case, I think I see where you’re coming from. Let me summarize, if I may:

      – There’s nothing unAmerican about using your power to squelch other people’s attempts at expression.
      – This is especially true if you’re a near-monopoly whose power owes to tight, incestuous relationships with the government.
      – Freedoms are best determined by rigged “free” market economics.

      And, of course, the public interest is what the public is interested in.

      • Slammy: I respect where you’re coming from, but Lynda is right. I’m not sure she understands WHY she’s right, but still – right for the wrong reasons beats wrong for any reason.

        Here’s the issue. As I have explained before, any ruling elite must have mechanisms to retain power. Maybe that mechanism is massive police power, but in a modern society that approach isn’t terribly cost-efficient. Worse, it makes the people’s repression obvious and gives them a focus for their grievances. This leads, in due time, to rebellion, and that also has … how to put this? … a negative impact on earnings.

        So the ideal mechanism is one that keeps people in their place without them realizing that they’re being kept in their place, and for that reason I assert that the American system of democracy is the cleverest tool for the oppression of the masses in history. Rather than using brute force, the elites oppress them with a shiny ideology. Even better, the ideology of freedom (especially in the hands of the ignorant) is so appealing that the people oppress THEMSELVES with it. All they need is one example of a guy who made it against long odds to dismiss the evidence all around them, the 99.999999999999% rule, that the odds are stacked against them. When they think about how free they are, they need no more than to know that they can say “Bush is an idiot” or “Obama is a Muslim socialist bastard” without being thrown in jail. That their speech never CHANGES anything – well, that tends to go unnoticed.

        To these naïve, blissful ignorants, the case of The Entire Radio Megalopoly vs. Dixie Chicks signifies nothing, because the ladies were free to go on singing and saying whatever they liked. That the practical equivalent of a state-run media had blackballed them (remember, this was happening around the time that Clear Channel, which was thick as thieves with the Bush administration, was hosting PRO-WAR rallies), well, that’s just the “free” market.

        Of course, the irony here is that the market is “free” in exactly the same way that Lynda and the Dixie Chicks are, huh?

  12. Let me LOL openly at anyone who makes the case that a Grammy award constitutes quality.

    I like all the Chicks albums, I think the last album was ok, but not as close to being good as their others.

    As I type this I’m watching some country award show that is hosed by Dana Carvey or the Joker, I really can’t tell. Anyways what this show is really missing is a band like the Chicks. It is jaw dropingly sad that people listen to 99% of this stuff.

    When I worked in Nashvegas at a Studio I got to hear the Chicks album “Home” before it was released. Their label ( I believe it was Sony) thought it was too blue grass and wanted them to re-do it. They basically gave them the finger and fought them. I always kinda liked them, but this really put me over the top.

    It’s actually amazing, everyone in Nashville can sing and play guitar, there’s tons of talent, but the thought process in that town is just ass backwards. I remember a couple years ago when people were wearing “Cash” T shirts at a country award show. Then they would go on stage and perform some lifeless,unmemorable, take no risk, country song. It was actually the exact opposite of Cash. There really is nothing funnier than southern irony.

  13. I want to know who it is you are under some illusion has “squelched” the Dixie Chicks? The only thing that happened to them is that a lot of country fans decided to quit listening to them and some radio stations quit playing them. Her stupid dramatic “life threat” happens to stars every day. Their CD’s are still in the stores, I still hear them on the radio all the time, their videos are still being played on CMT and GAC, they won 5 Grammies, and might still be touring – that I don’t know. There was no government conspiracy – I doubt that too many in the government even know they exist. It’s free market. If you have what the consumer wants, you sell it, if you don’t, you don’t. All this government conspiracy crap is laughable – not only about the Chicks, but about most of what you crazy liberals freak out about. What you need to be freaking out about is the fact that you finally have a government run by people who agree with you that we need a giant mommy and daddy running our lives and telling us what is right and wrong, and what we should and shouldn’t do!!!! I am capable of figuring that out for myself, and won’t be ordered by anyone. This subject of the Chicks is so old and overdone. They are singers – nothing else. Not political icons, not even educated as to Amercian politics. They just have opinions that they expressed, which they had the right to express, that weren’t liked by many, who have the right to not like them, and suffered the consequences of that. Having the right to speak does not come with having the right to force others to listen to you or care what you say. One day half of this country is going to realize that the other half believes what they say, and aren’t puppets!

    • Wow. Just wow. I guess Bonesparkle owes you a big thanks for pretty much proving every word he said, Lynda.

      I want to know who it is you are under some illusion has “squelched” the Dixie Chicks? The only thing that happened to them is that a lot of country fans decided to quit listening to them and some radio stations quit playing them.

      It is true that a lot of their fans abandoned them because they didn’t like what Natalie said. And it is certainly true that this is well within their rights. I mean, I’d die before I’d spend a dollar on Toby Keith, and that is a political stance. It is not true that this is “the only thing that happened to them.” It’s interesting that someone who professes to love the free market has so little awareness of things like ownership regulations, market share, and the power of lobbying. It’s as though tight relationships don’t matter when it comes to govt and corp back-scratching. People like you are blind to the system, to the structure, when you choose to be, although later you’re perfectly capable of imagining a collective dirty hippie librul structure that behaves in some sort of conspiratorial fashion. For those who have actually STUDIED our media system and looked at who’s buddies with who and who lobbies for who and who donates money to what candidates and who owns how much of the market, it’s clear that there are FACTS in this case. Your inability to see those facts has, as best I can tell, no bearing on their existence.

      Her stupid dramatic “life threat” happens to stars every day.

      Which is just how Washington and Jefferson and Adams intended it to be. So if I understand your argument, death threats aimed at people who say things you don’t like is okay because it’s part of the free market system.

      Their CD’s are still in the stores, I still hear them on the radio all the time, their videos are still being played on CMT and GAC, they won 5 Grammies, and might still be touring – that I don’t know.

      They’re touring, all right – they have to tour a lot more since they have been blackballed by the C&W industry. Did you watch the CMAs last night? How often were they mentioned? Look, none of the Chicks are going to be begging for change anytime soon, but if you think that the only thing that happened is that a few stations stopped playing their music, you’ve completely lost touch with reality. Go here and read the section entitled “Backlash.”

      By the way, where is “here”? Can you tell me which country stations are playing their music “all the time”? And were they doing so in 2004, or did they wait until it became clear to all but the very dimmest of dimwits that Natalie was right all along?

      There was no government conspiracy – I doubt that too many in the government even know they exist.

      Would you kindly point to where anybody said anything about a “government conspiracy”? Let’s stick to what is actually being said and stay away from what you imagine a stereotyped liberal probably meant, hmmm?

      It’s free market.

      My friends on the left think this is a hysterical proposition. My friends on the right laugh even harder at the idea than do my Boulder librul friends.

      If you have what the consumer wants, you sell it, if you don’t, you don’t.

      How do you know what you want if you’re never allowed to sample all the options?

      All this government conspiracy crap is laughable – not only about the Chicks, but about most of what you crazy liberals freak out about.

      And there it is. Would you first define what you mean by the term “liberal”? Since it’s so central to whatever point you’re making, it seems important that we all know what youi mean by the word. Then will you explain how I’m representative of that definition? And please, be specific and provide examples, because before yesterday I don’t think you even knew that I existed. “Specific” is critical here, because I’m not a group. I’m Sam Smith, not “you crazy liberals,” and there are a great many things I’m guilty of, but I’m not known for “freaking out.”

      If you can’t do these things, then I’m going to have a hard time sifting you out from the other people I’ve heard who use similar language when they encounter ideas and facts that they don’t like.

      Put another way, I’m not a straw man. Are you?

      What you need to be freaking out about is the fact that you finally have a government run by people who agree with you that we need a giant mommy and daddy running our lives and telling us what is right and wrong, and what we should and shouldn’t do!!!!

      Sweet fancy Jesus. Earlier up the page there was no such thing as the possibility of a government conspiracy. What happened? I mean, is the power elite capable of acting in this way or not?

      Then, if you would, can you tell me who this government we have that agrees with everything I think is? The only government I’m aware of is the one in Washington, and I assure you, they and I have many points of disagreement.

      Then will you give me some examples of what mommy and daddy are making you do that you don’t want to do?

      THEN will you reconcile your accusation that I’m freaking out with all those exclamation points that you use?

      I am capable of figuring that out for myself, and won’t be ordered by anyone.

      I see no evidence of the former. And why would anybody need to order you around when you’re behaving precisely as they want you to?

      This subject of the Chicks is so old and overdone.

      And yet, here you still are.

      They are singers – nothing else. Not political icons, not even educated as to Amercian politics.

      If so, then how can you explain the massive, obviously political backlash against them?

  14. It’s funny, though – her original and witlessly controversial comment was grounded in the same mindset as Toby Keith and his thick-lipped profitable pseudo-patriotism. Off-the-cuff remarks are so revealing sometimes.

    Because really, guys. Being ashamed that someone you dislike is from, say, Texas is almost as stupid as being proud that you are, which is the logical corollary (unless, of course, you gave birth to yourself and chose to do it in Lubbock). Fetishizing a circumstance over which you have no control? Dumb. And lazy. And immensely profitable with the right audience, as Ms. Maines and Mr. Keith have both discovered.

    Do I think that her comment was a thoughtful reflection of her cultural background and political beliefs? No. Do I believe that she truly disagreed with the President’s views and had every right to express herself as she did? Of course. Do I think that she and her bandmates traded on and profited by their association with people who do think that where you come from is as much a matter of pride as what you’ve made of yourself, and by the way, love us or leave us? Oh hell yes.

    I’ve seen their videos, heard their songs and wait – what’s the name of the band again? Dixie Chicks? Irony, my fat Texan ass. Ms. Maines appeared perfectly content to shake her tits and flip her bleached blonde hair in regulation Redneck Rebel 2.0 gear until that fatal moment when she discovered that sexism has a flip side and jingoism is more than a cheap way to get a cheer from the crowd.

    I’d have been much more sympathetic if she’d said something like,”Bush is a homicidal twat.” Now that’s specific.

  15. I think it’s my way of wishing for a better poster child for free speech… you know, in a Ward Churchill-ish sense.

    I do like their latest release much, much better, and I think a LOT of growing up has happened on her part, while there appears to be no discernible evidence of evolution on the part of Mr. Keith.

  16. It is now 2019 and the enlightened liberal protectors of freedom of speech and thought are now the oppressors.

    What have you become in these few years which have passed?

    Where is my safe space? LoL

    The abyss has looked back…….