Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Making Nice With The Chicks

Sunday night at the Grammies, The Dixie Chicks cleaned up. They won five awards including The Big Three: Best Song, Best Record, and Best Album. And don’t ask me the difference, because nobody really knows. The morning after, there were several competing theories about the Chix dominance including:

  • Vindication and support of the girls in their long-running feud with Dubya.
  • A nose-thumbing at Blue State Murika for being so mean to them.
  • Further proof of the terminally middle-brow taste of Grammy voters.
  • Voters scared Justin Timberlake would use the trophy as a prop in a “Dick In A Box” sketch.
  • The album might have actually been good.

Whether their foreign soil bashing has turned out to be a good or bad career move depends on your larger viewpoint. Personally, I prefer my musicians a little on the lefty side. They tend to make better music.

I had an excellent sideline seat to much of the original outrage when Natalie Maines declared that she was ashamed that Bush was from Texas to a London audience back in 2003. My wife had gotten an award that included a trip to a technology teacher convention in Nashville. I tagged along to soak up the country and western ambience. I’ve been a closeted country fan since I learned how smutty C&W songs are.

We did the whole tourist routine including Ryman’s Auditorium, Opryland, and a pilgrimage to the Jack Daniels factory. I wanted to see some live music, but didn’t care for the smoky peanuts-on-the-floor places. From the internet, I learned about the Bluebird CafĂ© which is a songwriters’ showcase venue.

Country music is a songwriter’s medium and many of the most talented people in Nashville write the words others sing. The signature event at the Bluebird is their in-the-round acoustic jams where four songwriters sit in a circle and take turns playing their tunes. My memory is pretty fuzzy, but the night we went, the line-up included the late Robert Byrne, the guy responsible for most of Shenandoah’s hits. Not that I hold that against him.

The elder statesman of the night was Richard Leigh who wrote the classic Crystal Gayle hit “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue”. There were audible gasps when he mentioned that The Dixie Chicks had recorded one of his songs. He shook his head and distanced himself from the politics and went on to sing “Cold Day In July”, a sweet non-controversial ballad from their Fly album.

Dixie Chicks-Cold Day In July

The whole Chicks controversy was delicately avoided by the other performers, but they did like to rib Leigh about the decidedly Gallic spelling of his last name. Remember, this was at the height of Freedom Fries mania.

Natalie’s statement and disapproving responses from other musicians were featured on all the local news shows, but I didn’t see any public burnings of either records or effigies. I did see plenty of aspiring musicians living the life described in “Long Time Gone”:

Now me, I went to Nashville,
Tryin' to beat the big deal
Playin' down on Broadway
Gettin' there the hard way
Living from a tip jar
Sleeping in my car
Hocking my guitar
Yeah I’m gonna be a star

We went honky-tonkin’ down Broadway (the one in Nashville, not to be confused with the one in New York where I stalk celebrities) on a Thursday night when the dozen or more bars (most no wider than you can swing a cat) don’t have a cover charge. The more popular venues will shuffle in bands on an hourly basis all night long. Tootsie’s Orchard Lounge has one stage in the front and one in the back so the live music never stops. Other places were nearly deserted except for the singer on the barstool. We hit about a half dozen bars in less than an hour, not even stopping for a drink in some. The common thread was that all these performers were playing for tips, practice, and publicity. And you can only fill the gas tank with one of those.

The Chicks have paid their dues and are entitled to their opinion. My wife and I caught them at the MCIVerizon Center stop on their recent Bible Belt avoiding tour. The rocking but haunting “Not Ready To Make Nice” had the crowd on their feet. And the Grammy voters marking their ballot.

Blatant Comment Whoring™: Do you get annoyed when singers and celebrities push their political opinions?


trusty getto said...

Nope, doesn't annoy me a bit, even when I completely disagree with the opinions expressed.

Pop music is highly derivative of music of days gone by, and more than a little of that music is protest music. So I would say that pop music and protest music go hand in hand. Blues traces back to slaves. Folk musicians like Arlo Guthrie, Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan would never have gone anywhere had they not so had their fingers on the pulses of America during their times.

Anonymous said...

I don't mind at all when I agree with them! In fact, that's what drew me to U2 in the first place. And even if I don't, if the music is really good, I wouldn't care (too much). I really like the Dixie Chicks - and they were quite apolitical at the time Natalie made her remark. The over-reaction to that just made me a bigger fan. I like their latest album a lot - bought it and saw them in concert here, right after the Nov elections (woo hoo!).


Anonymous said...

I’m interested to see what this adds to the dialog. Curious stuff in this independent film! :

Impetua said...

Well, I liked 'em before the big "We're ashamed" thing and I liked 'em a bit more after, and I think your political agenda, if you have one, is part of who you are and for some people may leak out into their music or their writing or whatever.

Music comes from a personal place and the more it's sanitized the more it excludes the very people who make it. So, if you got all famous, with or without your politics as part of it, you're entitled to do as you please, and suffer the consequences if there be any. I think a lot of people may have chosen not to say what she said just to be on the safer side, but I might not have been one of them given the same circumstance.

Oh, and as a more direct and clear answer to the blogwhoring query: I only get annoyed when singers and celebrities push their political (or religious or "moral") opinions if I don't agree with them, and then I figure they are entitled to their opinions, and then I stop watching their movies/shows or listening to their music if it bothers me that much. Which is why I can no longer stomach most Tom Cruise and Mel Gibson movies anymore.

Anonymous said...

The difference for me is that Guthrie, Dylan and that whole crowd weren't as obnoxious and in-your-face as, say, Bono. They generally let the music do the work for them and it worked out well.

In the DC case, as noted above, it was the overreaction that was the true story (our generation's "The Beatles are bigger than Jesus"?) so I'm not holding it against them.

With non-musical celebrities, I go back and forth, depending on whether I smell a publicity stunt at work. I think that Ed Begley Jr. and Woody Harrelson are pretty much on the level, but most of the others are full of crap.

Anonymous said...

The recipe I am going to share with you today is about 350 years old! A great favourite from the Cape where the first brandy from Cape grapes were distilled in 1672! We have come a very long way since then when it comes to the quality of our brandy, but still, Cape Brandy Pudding remains an old time favourite :) Growing up in South Africa is great fun with all the recipes your mother makes and teaches you during your younger years!

Your Mother said...

Personally, I don't mind one way or another. The outlash for the Chicks was a bit on the extreme side for me. Love him or hate him, we all have an opinion and if I said what Natalie had said, it would not have had any press. Because I'm not a big name. Similar to the Anna Nicole Smith death, millions of people die every day, she gets more press because of her name.

kenju said...

I am so apolitical that I pay no attention to anyone's opinions, hardly even mine. Politics is boring. I don't listen to C&W music either, but maybe I should take it up....LOL. Michele sent me.

Carli N. Wendell said...

It depends on the celebrity and the opinion. When they try to sway an election, yes, that's not their place. When they speak out of their asses about stuff they know nothing about, it's annoying. But Natalie Maynes was expressing an opinion to a group of people (Europeans) who were quickly losing patience with America.

Anonymous said...

I only get annoyed when it's sports celebs, aka Curt Shilling, who shills for the Shrub. That annoyed the hell out of me because lets face it, sports stars aren't usually considered for Mensa, if you know what I mean.

Here via Michele