The Dixie Chicks

“I’ve been a long time gone now
Maybe someday, someday I’m gonna settle down
But I’ve always found my way somehow
By taking the long way
Taking the long way around”

I realize that not everyone is going to agree with this one. But I also realize that for those whom this blog category was created in the first place, this could be a good choice. So, bear with me…

This blog category, of course, is intended for people who don’t like Texas. Or maybe even hate Texas. And especially during these past six years, I keep meeting more and more of these folks.

Well, dear Texas-hating friends, please remember that the Dixie Chicks are from Texas. In fact, better than that, remember that they started out right here in Dallas.

“I hit the highway
in a pink RV with stars on the ceiling
Lived like a gypsy
Six strong hands on the steering wheel”

The orginal “Chicks” were sisters Martie and Emily Erwin, Robin Macy and Laura Lynch. Robin Macy was not only a member of the Chicks, but also a DJ on KERA for a while, back when KERA actually played music. (Don’t get me started…)

Macy left when the band when they seemed to be veering away from a more traditional bluegrass sound. After she left the Chicks, she became a member of “Domestic Science Club” with Sara Hickman and Patty Lege. I understand she also lives in Kansas now.

Laura Lynch, who was the original lead singer, was replaced in 1995 by Natalie Maines, the daughter of famous Texas musician Lloyd Maines. BTW, I always felt sorry for Laura Lynch. News reports say she cried every day for a month after being “fired” from the band. Then, a few years later, her husband won an almost $30-million-dollar Texas lottery. (There’s something Karmically fair about that…)

“I met the queen of whatever
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
No I, I could never follow”

When Maines joined the Dixie Chicks, they were on the verge of true breakthrough success. Dennise and I remember seeing them around town many times in those early years. And as their sound became more commercially-country, they finally broke through. And when they broke through, they broke through BIG. They are, by any stretch of the imagination, one of the most successful groups of all time. No kidding. I was surprised myself when I looked it all up.

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Among their accomplishments, they are:

— The best selling Female group of all time. (Not just country group…any group in any genre).
— Winners of an astounding 13 Grammy Awards.
— Winners of ten Country Music Association Awards, including “Vocal Group of the Year” five times.

Here’s a complete list of their awards. Their 2003 tour was called “Top of the World,” which could have easily described their lives at the time. As the tour got rolling, they had a number one single –a heartfelt ballad called “Travelin’ Soldier“– and they were selling out arenas around the globe. In January, the sang the National Anthem at the Super Bowl before an audience of millions. It could hardly have been going better.

“It’s been two long years now
Since the top of of the world came crashing down”

Then, on March 10, 2003, their world changed forever. During a concert in London, at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire Theater, lead singer Natalie Maines made comments from the stage that would propel them into a firestorm of controversy they couldn’t possibly have imagined.

For some perspective, we should all think back to that incredibly tense time. It was clear that the nation was on the brink of war. It was also clear that many people did not support the war. In fact, it was not until the very last weeks before the war began –when the inevitable “rally around the troops” sentiment swelled– that opinion polls first showed broad support for the war. As late as the early Fall of 2002 –just six months before “the incident”– opinion polls showed a deep divide within the American public, with support for the idea of war barely more than 50 percent.

I was certainly one of those people. And in late February, I marched with 5,000 people through the streets of downtown Dallas in what was very likely the largest anti-war protest in Dallas’ history. (Got a chance to sing with Annie Benjamin at the rally afterwards…)

The day of that rally here, there were quite literally millions of people marching in cities around the globe. In fact, it is believed that this particular February day of protest was perhaps the largest single day of protest in HUMAN HISTORY.

Hundreds of thousands marched in cities like LA, Chicago, Paris and London. In Europe, anti-war sentiment was even more pronounced than in the states. Remember the silly way that the French were derided and temporarily boycotted? (BTW, if you go to Sonic this afternoon, think you can still score you some “Freedom Fries?”)

As we sit here in 2007, so much has happened. So much water has now gone under the bridge that it’s hard to accurately recall the tension of that time.

So…the Dixie Chicks go to London. It’s just weeks after this HUGE day of world-wide marches. And they are no doubt hearing from a lot of people in Europe about just how much they dislike the idea of the war. (Maybe they’re even hearing the same kind of hate of all-things-Texas that I have heard these last few years…which, of course, inspired these blog entries…)

In this context, Natalie Maines gets on stage and says this:

“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.”

The statement was picked up in the US by several conservative blogs, and spoonfed to the media. The comment caught on like an LA brushfire, and raged across America.

Maines attempted to clarify a few days later:

As a concerned American citizen, I apologize to President Bush because my remark was disrespectful. I feel that whoever holds that office should be treated with the utmost respect. We are currently in Europe and witnessing a huge anti-American sentiment as a result of the perceived rush to war. While war may remain a viable option, as a mother, I just want to see every possible alternative exhausted before children and American soldiers’ lives are lost. I love my country. I am a proud American.”

But nothing could undo what had already been done. And in the rush to war –and the rage to root out all traitors– the Dixie Chicks became public enemy number one. Country radio began a nation-wide boycott of the Dixie Chick’s music. In the space of a week, “Traveling Soldier” went from number one to off-the-charts-completely. Clear Channel, and other media outlets, arranged for public events where people would destroy the Dixie Chick’s CD…ala a good old-fashioned “book burning.”

People burned the CDs.
People crushed them.
People even ran over them with a tractor.

As an aside: you know, have to be really angry at someone to run over a CD with a tractor!!

But that sort of symbolizes the hatred and vitriol of the time.

The Dixie Chicks were called “traitors,” and “Saddam’s Angels.” People said they should leave America.

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The anger culminated in a death threat against Natalie Maines, from –of all places– Dallas. The FBI and Dallas Police took the threat very seriously, and the Chicks literally flew into Dallas from San Antonio the afternoon of the show, played their show, and flew back out of the city almost immediately….all the time surrounded by incredibly tight security and a tense entourage.

That event was channeled into the song “Not Ready to Make Nice” from their new “Taking the Long Way” CD:

“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?”

By the way, this entire phase of their history (and our’s) is chronicled in the documentary “Shut up and Sing.” It moves back and forth between the production of the Dixie Chick’s latest CD in 2006, and these events of 2003. And it gives the viewers an inside look at just how threatening and dangerous the situation became for them. I cannot recommend this film highly enough. Anyone interested in the issues of music, war, censorship, crowd dynamics, and human behavior, should see it.

So, now it’s 2007. Given the way things have gone these last four years, what are we to make now of how they were treated then? I mean, now that 75 percent of Americans no longer believe the war is worth fighting –given the fact that even Republican lawmakers now seem embarrassed by how the war is going– is anyone planning to apologize to them anytime soon? Or are they forever frozen as “evil doers” in American consciousness?
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Others spoke out far more than they did. Heck, Neil Young released an entire CD of anti-war songs. And nobody I know ran it over with a tractor. What was it about the Dixie Chicks that inspired such hatred? And why does it still persist, even as more and more people every day seem to draw the same conclusion they did…that the war has no moral justification?

Time Magazine asks it this way:

“Still, as the President’s support has eroded and growing numbers of Americans (presumably some country-music fans among them) have come to disapprove of both his performance and the decision to go to war, shouldn’t there be a proportional feeling of forgiveness toward the Dixie Chicks?”

You’d think so. But it doesn’t seem to have happened.

“And I’m getting’ it back on the road now
But I’m taking the long way
Taking the long way around”


The Chicks came back last year with a new album called
“The Long Way Around.” It’s a great CD. I’ve always loved their music. But this one is a real gem.
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That same Time Magazine story describes the CD this way:

“Musically, Taking the Long Way is full of swaggering country-tinged rock hooks–like a peak Eagles record, except without the misogyny and drug references and the advice to Take It Easy. Instead the songs aspire to do what the best pop always does, function as a smart expression of its creators’ lives while remaining accessible to its listeners’.”

The CD includes “Taking the Long Way” which makes reference to the scandal throughout, and the powerful “Not Ready to Make Nice,” which has the controversy at its lyrical core, and drives home the point that the Dixie Chicks are unapologetic for being themselves and speaking their minds.

In fact, the documentary “Shut Up and Sing” paints a picture of three women not so much ready to apologize, as ready to step out and stand up for who they really are. Time Magazine says:

“The celebrity playbook for navigating a scandal is one word long: repent. But apologies are for lapses of character, not revelations of it, and sensing that they were being asked to apologize for their beliefs as much as their timing, the Chicks decided not to back down. “Natalie knows we could have totally convinced her to apologize,” says Maguire. “But the fact is, any one of us could have said what she said.”

What about that, anyway? What about the right to say what you believe, even if it’s bad timing? And even if folks don’t like what they said, why did they inspire such intense hatred? Four years later, doesn’t it all look a little ridiculous? Doesn’t it seem a little over-blown?

I heard many people at the time saying things like: “Well, if they can’t stand the heat, then they shouldn’t have spoken out. They should realize that speaking out can have a price.”

OK. I actually get that. So, if you don’t like them, just don’t buy their CDs. That’s a perfectly appropriate consumer response. But is anyone really willing to defend running over their CDs with a tractor? Why was that necessary? And what about death threats? Do you deserve death threats just because you speak out? Really?
If you don”t like them, just don’t buy the CDs. Period. That’s makes enough of a statement.

No, it seems to me that the hate and vitriol must have come from some deeper level of our collective unconscious.

It seems to me that, in times of stress, crowds often want a scapegoat. In fact, it’s interesting to recall the cultural and religious symbolism of a scapegoat. The actual scapegoat of actual history was created by a community whose members believed that, individually and collectively, they had sinned beyond redemption. They had sinned beyond anyone’s ability (including God’s!) to forgive.

The scapegoat symbolically took on the sins of the people. It was then either slaughtered, or made to wander off into the wilderness. Either way, the point was that it now symbolized such sin and such evil that it could never be considered a part of the community again. The idea was that the scapegoat took the sins of the crowd with it (either to its death, or out into the desert..) But the only way it could be effective if it was cut off from the community forever.

In cultural history, this was called getting “scapegoated.” In 2003, this became known as getting “Dixie-Chicked.”

To me, scapegoating the only thing that really explains the depth of the vitriol that came their way. The Dixie Chciks became a symbol, a scapegoat, for people who, in their own heart-of-hearts, had secret concerns and anxiety about this war, but simply didn’t know how to express them. So, when the Dixie Chicks spoke those fears and expressed their dissent, it was just too much. (For more on the psychology of scapegoating, click here)

And in a run-up to war, perhaps there is no rational way to allow for this kind of dissent. Or, maybe it was just this war and the true depth of ambivalence that many people –publicly and privately– felt?

Or, maybe it’s just the country music world? As I mentioned earlier, others have been far more upfront and confrontational in their anti-war statements.

I wish we could announce that the scapegoating of the Dixie Chicks was now over. But it appears to persists even now. The “Taking the Long Way Around” CD was a smash, number-one-seller around the country and globe. Incredibly, however, there was not one song on it that made it on to country radio!!! How that can be?!

How can you have a CD that sells that well, and NOT have a hit single? (Forget “Dark Side of the Moon” for a moment…) Of course there are hit singles on that CD. Lots of them. They were simply not played by the country radio establishment. That’s the only logical explanation. Whether the industry admits it or not, the radio boycott continues.

Given this factual evidence, Time Magazine suggests that boycott/scapegoating does belong at the feet of the country music world (at least currently):

“Unlike rock fans, most of whom are attracted to the music’s integration of styles, some country fans–particularly those who call up radio stations in a lather–take it upon themselves to patrol a wall of genre purity. Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash got passes because they were sui generis. Not so Buck Owens, who in 1965, after a few experimental dalliances, took out an advertisement with a career-saving loyalty oath, “Pledge to Country Music,” in the Music City News, promising, “I Shall Sing No Song That Is Not a Country Song.” Even now, acts that other listeners reflexively think of as country, from McGraw to Willie Nelson to Shania Twain, are often disparaged for keeping an eye on the Hot 100, playing noncountry songs or showing a little navel. The message from hard-core listeners is, Stay behind the wall.”

Yep. It’s important to remember that for almost a decade or more, much of the country music establishment hated Willie Nelson. (Hard to recall that now, isn’t it?) They HATED Him. Willie, Waylon, and many others, were literally “outlaws.” They were rebels.

By the way, I am proud to remind you that most of these country music “outlaws” also came from Texas. There is a long history of this among Texas musicians. Willie was loathed. So was Hank Williams Jr., who purists were convinced caused his old man to roll over in his grave. Heck, as the Dixie Chicks remind us in one of their new songs, Lubbock, Texas originally hated its own hometown hero, Buddy Holly.

Too much of the Rock’n’Roll, they said.
Now? They have a statue of him in the center of town.
Go figure.

My point is, this year’s “outlaw” becomes next generation’s “legend.” And this has always been especially true about musicians that come from Texas. Maybe with time, country music will welcome them back again. Maybe not. Who knows?

We can’t know any of that for sure. But we can know this:

If you like the Dixie Chicks, if you like how they stood up for their beliefs, despite the incredible public pressure and personal loss, then you’ve found one more thing to like about this state.

And I, for one, am proud to say that they’re from Texas.

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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He has been Senior Pastor of Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas since 2001. During his tenure, church membership has grown almost 30 percent, and a completely new church facility (sanctuary and education building) has been constructed. Northaven is a leading progressive Christian congregation in the Southwest. Northaven is an eclectic collection of gay and straight families, artists, musicians, theater folks, academic theologians, lawyers and judges (go figure), socially conscious community activists, people who don't "check their brain at the door," and a wide array of others who either see it as their "last chance" inside the "institutional church," or their first trip back in decades. Eric is an avid blogger and published author.  Eric is also an award-winning singer-songwriter, who performs throughout Texas and the Southwest. He's an engaging live performer whose first CD was released in 2000. His songs have won honorable mention in both the Billboard and Great American song contests; and he's been a finalist in the 5th Street Festival and South Florida Folk Festival songwriter competitions. Eric is also a leader of Connections, a unique band comprised of United Methodist clergy and layfolk from throughout North Texas. Connections performs "cover shows" of artists like Dan Fogelberg, Chicago, Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor and others. Their shows draw crowds of between 300 and 1,000 fans, and they have raised more than $240,000 dollars for worthy charities. Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He's a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named "best judge" by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County. She was re-elected for a third term in 2010. They have the world's best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy. (As always, if you like this post, then "like" this on Facebook by clicking the box below, so others can see too...)

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