Arts & Culture

Should the Dixie Chicks just ‘shut up and sing’?

Dixie Chicks perform in London in 2016.
Dixie Chicks perform in London in 2016.

It seems particularly quaint, especially during an election cycle featuring ever more mind-boggling statements, but all it took to incite an uproar in 2003 were the following 32 words: “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.”

For the Dixie Chicks, those two sentences lit a fire that continues to smolder, over a decade later.

The trio offered a rejoinder of sorts with its Grammy-winning 2006 album, Taking the Long Way — sample lyric: “I’m not ready to make nice/I’m not ready to back down/I’m still mad as hell and/I don’t have time to go ’round and ’round and ’round” — but such a tactic seemed only to fan the flames, rather than provide an opportunity for constructive dialogue.

Friday, the Dixie Chicks will return to Dallas for the band’s first performance here in a decade. The last time the Chicks took to the stage, at American Airlines Center, they were contending with death threats (as seen in Barbara Kopple and Cecilia Peck’s vital 2006 documentary Shut Up & Sing), and while it would seem reasonable that anger has cooled, and fans are willing to forgive and forget any perceived slights, such an assumption would be incorrect.

It is mystifying why some people cannot let go of Natalie Maines’ statement, even though, in the time since her utterance, the Iraq War has become, for many politicians, a toxic subject. For her part, Maines told me in 2013 that the incident is not something at the front of her mind: “I don’t know that I have a whole lot new to say about it. I really don’t give it any thought until I get asked about it.”

A sampling of comments (which numbered nearly 100 in all) on the Star-Telegram’s Facebook page, in response to a query about whether the Dixie Chicks deserved forgiveness, only reinforces the refusal to let this controversy rest.

“If they would just sing I might listen to them again but they can’t keep their piehole shut about politics,” wrote Janie Kilgore Romine.

“Why should I ever listen to the Dixie Chicks again?” wrote John McLeod. “There are too many good acts out now who don’t go out of their way to insult their fans. They were supposed to be entertainers but decided they would rather be political activists. Good riddance and don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”

“I’m ashamed of the Dixie Chicks for being not only from Texas but as Americans as well,” wrote Michael Solis.

There is an argument to be made about the role of entertainers and commenting about anything contentious in a society, but the notion that the Dixie Chicks, or any band, should simply turn off their humanity and shift into jukebox mode is a rather naive point of view.

Just as people in the audience are watching and reacting, so too are there people on stage, with thoughts and feelings and opinions every bit as relevant.

That truth is reflected by the number of people who wrote on Facebook that, with the passage of time, they had reconsidered what Maines said that fateful night in London.

“At the time of Maines’ original comments, in March of 2003, I was 23 years old. Then, I thought her comments were utterly disrespectful,” wrote Jenafer Peterson. “I was shocked and disappointed that she used her celebrity status to delve into politics and that she directed her angry feelings towards President Bush. … Now that I am older and wiser, I absolutely admire Maines for speaking out like she did and I have a better understanding of why she said what she said. It was her opinion and she voiced it and for that she paid dearly.”

“The album that resulted from the world coming down on them is by far their best album and made them evolve as artists,” wrote Kyndall Upton. “They stayed true to themselves and there is something to be said about that.”

There will be, assuredly, a handful of people in attendance at the sold-out Gexa Energy Pavilion show who feel compelled to hurl invective at a band that has long since moved on. (Although Maines and her bandmates aren’t above taking political shots: The U.S. leg of their world tour kicked off with defaced images of Donald Trump as a backdrop.)

What will that accomplish? A momentary release of tension, but meaningless anger that doesn’t really solve anything.

Given the tenor of our times, perhaps we should all just shut up and sing.

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Preston Jones: 817-390-7713, @prestonjones

Dixie Chicks