It's a pretty big week for anniversaries. Today was the second anniversary of the huge Japanese earthquake, one of the largest every recorded, but 10 years ago yesterday the Earth moved in a different, very specific, way.
I am referring to the Dixie Chicks, who on March 10, 2003 were performing in London at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire Theatre. This was right on the cusp, within days in fact, of the U.S. of the led invasion of Iraq. London, oddly enough given the U.K.'s role as first mate in Operation: Iraqi Freedom, was the sight of a million person strong protest of the coming war. So in the spirit of solidarity, Dixie Chicks lead singer Natalie Maines told the crowd, 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.”
And then the roof fell in on the band. Country radio abandoned them, fans destroyed their CDs, and the term "Dixie Chicked" entered the lexicon meaning to kamikaze one's career in the face of a political misfire. Country music, being typically and fiercely conservative, was not impressed that one of their own mocked the POTUS on the eve of military action, especially being barely a year and a half out from 9/11.
When we did the top political songs episode of "Beyond the Ballot Box" over the holidays, my number two pick was "Not Ready to Make Nice" off of the Dixie Chicks' first and only post-controversy album Taking the Long Way Home. Released in 2006, and mostly promoted through pop radio, Home didn't match the Chicks' previous albums' sales records, but three years later not only had the political winds shifted, so had the entire recording industry. Still, Home was a best seller, "Nice" was a hit, and the Dixie Chicks won a pair of Grammys for their effort and were featured in a critically-acclaimed documentary Shut Up and Sing, that same year for their trouble.
If there's a reason that this is still relevant, it's because despite the visceral reaction by most Americans at the time, the Dixie Chicks and other critics of the Iraq War and American foreign policy turned out to be right in the end. In January, a poll showed that 52 per cent of Americans thought it was a mistake to send troops into Iraq, and 55 per cent said that the war wasn't worth fighting. That's a far cry from the 73 per cent who cried havoc and let slip the dogs of war in the winter of '02/'03.
Yet despite that, I don't think the Dixie Chicks were ever given an apology. People threatened them with death over a relatively harmless, off the cuff remark. Maines said nothing about wanting to do George W. Bush harm. She never said anything about hoping that a lot of Americans die in the endeavour, or that she was renouncing her citizenship in protest and setting up camp in France. (Oddly enough, that's what another American institution, The Simpsons, did a year later.)
Still, even the somewhat symbolic return of the Chicks following Shamedgate doesn't lessen what happened. Hit Fix's Melinda Newman posted an interesting article that put the controversy in context, 10 years later the Dixie Chicks still struggle to overcome their moment, yet someone like Chris Brown, who physically assaulted a woman and lived to brag about it, manages to spring back to form without any real demand to make amends. Newman also points out that someone like Ted Nugent can say things like, "Obama, he’s a piece of s**t. I told him to suck on my machine gun," and seems able to skate with his country acumen intact. Apparently, insulting the President only matters when he's a Democrat and/or black.
The lesson of the story is... I don't know. Maines is releasing her first solo album later this year, and the full band will be taking part in several Canadian music festivals and events this summer, including Ottawa Bluesfest and the Calgary Stampede. The Dixie Chicks turned out all right in the end, but where would they be if a half-joking remark hadn't been taken as if it were high treason? Perhaps it should just stand as a lesson that today's minority might be tomorrow's majority, and that the wheel never stops turning. After all, the Dixie Chicks can tour in Canada without protest, George W. Bush cannot.