Anyone who can’t admit that it took courage for Natalie Maines to say she was ashamed George W. Bush came from Texas, and for her band mates Martie Maguire and Emily Robison to back her up, should have to answer this question: has your life ever been threatened for expressing a political opinion?
MAINES’S LINE: “I’ve paid a price and I’ll keep paying.”
After Maines made her statement in March 2003 on stage at London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire, it became common — from the left as well as the right — to hear people claim that the Dixie Chicks were naive for being shocked at the reaction, as if death threats should be considered par for the course in a democracy. And let’s be clear: we’re talking about one threat that was so specific as to the time, place, and method of Maines’s murder, the FBI considered it credible. We’re talking about a DJ who claimed he knew Maines’s address and suggested taking a “posse” to her house. We’re talking about a newspaper that published that address. We’re talking about a South Carolina politician who rose in the state legislature to announce that anyone who attended the Chicks’ concert in his state ought to be “ready, ready, ready to run away from it.”
The irony is that for a few months in the spring and summer of 2003, some Americans aped Islamic fundamentalists who believe that the proper punishment for defaming their godhead is death. Those people did so in the name of standing up for America.
Following the release of Taking the Long Way (Sony), the claims by the Chicks’ enemies that the Bush comment was a ploy to boost CD sales are dubious — as if the largest-selling female act in the history of popular music needed help moving units. The first single, “Not Ready To Make Nice,” couldn’t find enough stations to play it (even as it hit #1 on iTunes). And though the band debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, it was a significant drop from their last album of new material, 2002’s Home. No, the band aren’t going to the poorhouse anytime soon, but they are likely to be seeing much smaller sales than they once did.
“The incident,” as they now call it, illustrates, as nothing else in pop culture has in decades, how much riskier it is to speak up in the midst of the mainstream than it is from the fringe. No other performer has been as vilified as the Dixie Chicks were for speaking out — and they wouldn’t have been if they hadn’t made their name in the conservative space of mainstream country music.
They do not apologize on Taking the Long Way. In a recent Time cover story, Maines even retracted her 2003 apology: “I don’t feel he [Bush] is owed any respect whatsoever.”
A grab at mainstream adult pop, the new album finds the Chicks experiencing the pleasure of speaking in their own voice, dropping all pretense as to who they are. “Well, I fought with a stranger and I found myself,” Maines sings on the opener, “The Long Way Around.” It also finds them bristling at the shit they’ve taken for doing so. “I’ve paid a price and I’ll keep paying,” Maines sings in a plaintive, breathy voice on “Not Ready To Make Nice.”