Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Dixie Chicks - Shut up and Sing

We attended the world premier of this film tonight at Roy Thompson Hall, here in Toronto. The film is a documentary about what happened after Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks said on-stage that they were ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas. There are lots and lots of bands who can and do make all kinds of political statements without facing the kind of radical reaction the Chicks were faced with. The difference is that the Dixie Chicks were darlings of the country music industry, big sellers, cash cows for their record companies - a band from Texas, Dubya country, the south, the heart of the radical evangelical right wing.

The Dixie Chicks come off as real and reasonable folks, faced with unexpected turmoil, protests and even death threats. They were not an overtly political band. We're talking about nice people, new moms, caring people. They were a band who moved from playing a more traditional kind of music into what is termed in the film a more contemporary country space. This move enabled them to access the machine, Sony music, and even corporations like Lipton Tea. Strangely, the single comment made on-stage had such a profound affect on their ability to function within the country music industry....so much so, that the film talks about them targetting a new market, even talking about touring Canada, visiting places like Kamloops and Moose Jaw.

At one point in the film, we learn about a corporate offer to underwrite a tour, to give them an opportunity to hedge their bets, and I was cheering them on when they refused it. They also began to resist pressure to subject themselves to the marketing whims of the machine. At the same time, though, they made it clear they weren't about to go back to traveling about in an RV playing smokey bars.

This film is kind of like The Revenge of the Dixie Chicks. Maines not only repeats her statement on stage, she also calls Bush a dumb fuck. The religious right who protested their shows are shown in a very ugly light. The Chicks are shown to be complex, emotional, caring and intelligent. It reminded me of Jello Biafra, former lead singer of the Dead Kennedys, who, after the big police raided his house and arrested him because they didn't approve of his album cover art, went on the lecture circuit, proving himself to be articulate and intelligent, if radical.

My reaction when the media storm over Ms. Maines statement started, I remember thinking, what's the fuss all about. I wasn't a fan of their music particularly, although I recognized them to be talented and accomplished musicians. Readers of mister anchovy will know that I prefer music that is more traditionally oriented, or at least less pop oriented - most of the time. Watching the film, I couldn't help but wonder what this band would have been like if they had continued down the Old Time path and avoided the 'contemporary country music space'. I admire them enormously for sticking it out though, in the face of the country music establishment so quickly turning their back on them.

Driving home tonight, Tuffy said, "It's very much like the Johnny Cash finger poster". Interestingly enough, Rick Rubin, the producer who worked with Johnny Cash on American recordings appears in this film too. True enough, the country music establishment were finished with Cash and discarded him, but not because he slagged the President. The film makes it clear what it's about to the machine, though - money money money.

It is perfect that Dixie Chicks - Shut up and Sing premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, as Toronto has remained a strong part of their fan base (as it has remained for performers like Steve Earle, who have also taken on Bush and his crew). In the land of the free, there are high costs associated with freedom of speech, as the Dixie Chicks discovered. The whole ordeal must have been very difficult and scary for these performers. It also put them in a whole different space. They weren't just country-pop singers any more. I'm looking forward to hearing where their music will take them over the next few years, should they continue recording and touring.

Go see this movie. On the 5 anchovy rating scale, I give it dump truck full of salties. A must see.


Radmila said...

Free speech is only allowed to those who can afford it.
All others are forced to shut the f*ck up.

* (asterisk) said...

Great post, Mr A. I'm not a Dixie Chicks fan but I think I'll definitely check this out when it hits our shores. I do like a good documentary, and if it includes anti-Bush sentiment and people doing what they believe rather than bending over and taking it from The Man, so much the better! Another good documentary about a band I don't really care for is Metallica: Some Kind of Monster. Take a look if you can.

thehealingroom said...

Me too. I don't listen to country very often except Gillian Welch and Be Good Tanyas, however, I LIKE these women.
I didn't see her so much as anti-Bush but more Pro Freedom.