Thursday, May 25, 2006

Don't Make Nice, Girl!

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - There have been a lot of talk this week about the Dixie Chicks, as their new album in two years is released. This week's issue of TIME magazine had a whole cover story about the three-women country group, who were huge countries with their first two albums, but suddenly became something close to pariahs when lead singer Natalie Maines said to an audience in London in 2003, "...[W]e're ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas." Simple yet pointed comment, to be sure, but people are allowed to give voice to such comments without fear, right? But this occurred just before the United States invaded Iraq, and so the Dixie Chicks were attacked for this statement: their music was pretty much shunned from country radio, and they received death threats for their statements.

About two years later, they have returned with their new album Taking the Long Way, which, from what the TIME article suggests, is a personal response on the part of the group---who wrote all of the songs on their new album---to the controversy that erupted from that comment. They're still not being played all that much on country radio, and a lot of country fans, it seems, are still not ready to forgive them.

Now, I don't profess to be much of a country fan. (I don't have a particularly strong aversion to country music---heck, I admire Johnny Cash just as much as the next music enthusiast. I just don't listen to it all that much.) And I haven't really heard much of the Dixie Chicks. So perhaps I really shouldn't be venturing into these muddy waters relatively blind. Still, I think this is an interesting story worth reflecting on.

One thing that comes to mind: the TIME articles has a telling sidebar that runs on top of all four pages of its cover story that notes the reactions to the music of other artists who dared to speak ill about President George W. Bush after Natalie Maines made her inflammatory comments in London. Bruce Springsteen, for instance, called for President Bush's impeachment at a NYC concert in October 2003, yet that didn't hurt sales of his next album. In September 2005, Rapper Kanye West notoriously accused Bush of not caring about black people during a televised Katrina benefit concert, but his second album Late Registration still made it to No. 1 (and, as TIME points out, "He continues as a pitchman for Pepsi"). And let's not forget Green Day's recent American Idol, an angry antiwar rock album released in September 2004 which revitalized the careers of Billie Joe Armstrong and co. and won them a Grammy Award for Best Rock Album in the process. In fact, most of the artists noted by TIME in their sidebar---with the exception of Pink, whose song "Dear Mr. President" from I'm Not Dead also bashes Dubya---are male, and all of them met with much less resistance from fans and critics than the Dixie Chicks did.

What gives? The article suggests that maybe people in general have been more accepting of subsequent attacks on President Bush simply because his approval rating seems to have plummeted, and criticism against the war in Iraq has heated up recently. Also possible is a difference in mindset of a country music fan than of fans of other music genres: as Josh Tyrangiel, author of the article, writes, "Unlike rock fans, most of whom are attracted to the music's integration of styles, some country fans...take it upon themselves to patrol a wall of genre purity." In other words, anything that breaks out of the country mold and image is likely to be jumped on hard by fans. Such is the case when a popular country group raises some ideological hell that pokes holes in the typical conservative country image.

Allow me to throw this out, though---and by all means, tell me if I sound way off base or ignorant at all here! I wonder if a lot of the derision greeting the Dixie Chicks' outspokenness, whether through public comments or through their music, is simply yet another case of the gender divide at work. The Dixie Chicks may have started out their lucrative careers projecting a certain spunky image or singing songs about love and all that---I'm guessing, because I don't really listen to their music---but people, especially country fans, began to shudder when they demonstrated that they could be daring enough to bluntly express their political views. That's not what we expect from a group called the Dixie Chicks! Perhaps I'm going a bit too far when I say this, but maybe something ingrained in society is going on, at least among a certain group of people, when they bash some of these artists for airing out strong views about something or someone in public---especially if those artists are females, and especially if they do so through their music. (We expect some ideoloical hell-raising from the Boss, but not from these country girls.) Through their derision, some people seem to inadvertently express their preference their music pleasantly innocuous and without a point-of-view or a personal vision.

Perhaps I should give this new Dixie Chicks album a spin. Certainly, I can respect any artist who feels the need to work something out that affects them personally through their music. If an artist isn't trying to do something deeply personal in a work of art, then really, what point does that work serve? It may be something pleasant to listen and perfectly disposable, but it wouldn't be worth a damn in the long run.

Assenting or dissenting opinions welcome.


Funny moment of the day: today I give a call to a local doctor's office inquiring about a job listing, and, during the phone call, one of the things the lady on the other end of the line says to me is, "You sound old."


Now, granted, it's not like she made this comment out of the blue. She had asked me how old I was, and then she says that to me. She explains, when I respond with very restrained disbelief, that a lot of old people look at her listings for billing clerk, secretary, or receptionist and call her up. And she said I sounded like one of them.

I say it again: What???!!!

I was surprised, to say the least, but I wasn't offended. Not in the slightest. In fact, I took it as mainly a source of amusement in an otherwise humdrum day at home. Hey, if my voice's sounding old = my voice sounding vaguely weary, then you know what? I'm fine with that. It reflects my mood at the moment anyway.

Also: I've gotten away this long with somehow convincing some people that I'm some super-smart genius. If I can add "old" to my arsenal, I could perhaps not only seem super-smart, but also seem wise beyond my years. Kickass!

By the way, I didn't have much luck with at that doctor's office either. In addition to calling me "old"---which I'm sure she meant in a lighthearted way---she also told me that she was mostly looking for someone who could continue after the summer. So that might not be for me. I like to have a reasonable amount of downtime to study during the school year without having to worry about an additional paying part-time job to work around.

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