Revolution #50, June 11, 2006

Lessons from the Dixie Chicks’ New Album

(or How I Visited the Country Section of the Record Store)

Growing up on bands like Bad Religion and Rage Against the Machine, it never occurred to me that I could ever appreciate any of the sentiments found in a country song/album.

To me, country music seemed like a genre dominated by artists like Toby Keith, backward sexist-pig Southern boys who cater to the “Hooray America” crowd with pro-war anthems like, “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue.”

So, I could never picture myself buying a country album—much less one by a group calling themselves the Dixie Chicks. (Let’s face it, although the group’s name is obviously tongue-in-cheek, the word “Dixie” still carries with it images of slavery and the confederate South, while the word “chick” has done nothing to help emancipate women.)

But being open-minded, having heard about positive contributions from artists like Steve Earle and Johnny Cash, and knowing that the other side was still holding a grudge against the band for daring to speak ill of George W. Bush more than three years ago, I decided to walk into uncharted territory, the country music section of a local record store. I picked up the new Dixie Chicks album to see what it was all about. I was amazed to find out that I really liked Taking the Long Way—not just musically—but lyrically.

The most popular song on the album, and the first single they released, “Not Ready to Make Nice,” starts off simple, with guitar and soft lyrics by singer Natalie Maines. It quickly builds up, letting the listener know that although the song is filled with emotion, it won’t be your usual country love song. “I’m through with doubt / There’s nothing left for me to figure out / I’ve paid a price / And I’ll keep paying.”

The song then gets louder as it reaches the chorus, with the singer never yelling (or over-singing), just with a strong, confident voice (as people should use when they know they are standing up for something right).

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

With songs on their previous albums like “Goodbye Earl,” the group has broken with small-town tradition and gotten in trouble because of it from right-wing forces. But for this album, all three women, (Natalie Maines, Martie Maguire and Emily Robinson) took two years to work on their song-writing and came up with their most defiant lyrics to date, showcasing even more their rebellious spirit and their unapologetic stance in the face of criticism.

More than three years ago, on March 10, 2003, as the war on Iraq was in the horizon, at a concert stage in England, lead singer Maines made what she thought was a just a casual remark before getting into a song. She told the crowd, “Just so you know, we’re ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas.” Raising the fact that not everybody in Texas loves George got the other side really ticked!

At first, Maines made an apology about the phrasing of her comment, but the band soon let everyone know that they would neither repent nor give up their right to question the government. In fact, in a recent interview with Time magazine, Maines said that the only thing she regrets was making that apology. “I apologized for disrespecting the office of the President. But I don’t feel that way anymore. I don’t feel he is owed any respect whatsoever.”

Many critics of the band are saying that the Dixie Chicks have turned their back on the country music scene. But who turned their backs on who? Certainly not the majority of their fans who helped the new album debut at number one on the Billboard charts when it was released.

If anything, it’s the country music industry who has tried to censor and smear the band. Egged on by right-wing radio talk show hosts, radio stations throughout the South refused to play their music anymore. And although their last album won three Grammys, at the Country Music Awards ceremony they walked away empty-handed.

Meanwhile, Toby Keith attacked the band by displaying a Photoshopped picture of Maines and Saddam Hussein. And if this wasn’t enough, the band also had death threats to worry about. In a recent television interview, the group talked about the seriousness of the threats. “It wasn’t just somebody wanting to write a hate letter. It was somebody who obviously thought they had a plan,” said Maines. The band played a show in Dallas in spite of a specific death threat.

The soft ballad, Easy Silence, is more of an homage to a lover, but also speaks about the controversy and reminds us that anyone can be threatened and ridiculed for daring to speak out against the government.

Monkeys on the barricades/ Are warning us to back away/ They form commissions trying the find/ The next one they can crucify/ And anger plays on every station/

The backlash from the country music industry pushed the band towards a lot more experimentation with their new album, making it sound like the group was trying form a new sound rather than just another country album,

For example, the final track, “I Hope,” sounds more like a gospel song than anything else with its soulful delivery of the chorus which lays out their vision of a better society: “I hope / For more love, more joy and laughter / I hope / We’ll have more than you’ll ever need / I hope / We’ll have more happy ever afters / I hope/ We can all live more fearlessly.”

Maines even goes so far as to mock her old hometown in Texas, exposing its highly religious values, in the high-energy rock-and-twang song, “Lubbock or Leave It.”

Dust bowl, bible belt / Got more churches than trees / Raise me, praise me, couldn’t save me / Couldn’t keep me on my knees / Oh boy / Rave on down loop 289 / That’ll be the day you see me back/ In this fool’s paradise

Lubbock, Texas is actually known for its Baptist conservatism and the conservative townspeople there hated the new genre of rock ’n’ roll music that legend Buddy Holly, (who was also born there), was pioneering back in the 1950s.

With their continued unapologetic stance and its rebellious spirit, the Dixie Chicks’ new album deserves a place on our CD players, right next to other recent albums that have come out with strong stances against the war (i.e., Pearl Jam, Anti Flag, Neil Young and others).

The opening track, “The Long Way,” is about not doing what people expect you, or want you, to do. It can be a message of encouragement for those just beginning to question and even rebel against the way things are.

My friends from high school / Married their high school boyfriends / Moved into houses / In the same ZIP codes as their parents live / But I / I could never follow / …Drank with the Irish and smoked with the hippies / Moved with the shakers / Wouldn’t kiss all the asses that they told me to / No I / I could never follow /…It’s been two long years now / Since the top of the world came crashing down / And I’m getting it back on the road now / But I’m takin’ the long way

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