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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Am I the Only One (Who's Ever Felt This Way)?

Who had the best album of the year last year?  The best song?  The best record?  The Recording Academy tells us it was the Dixie Chicks.  Or does it?  This story tells us that at least some voters cast their ballots for a Dixie Chicks sweep not because of the music itself, but to strike a blow against country radio's campaign of private censorship in the wake of lead singer Natalie Maines's storied comments about President Bush.  Thus, Jeff Ayeroff, a well-known music executive and academy member, told the Times that the vote represented "the artist community, which was very angry at what radio did, because it was not very American."   The article portrays the awards as vindication for the Dixie Chicks, especially in the wake of their shut-out at the Country Music Association's awards.  And unnamed "analysts" are quoted characterizing the vote as reflecting "the desire of many voters to strike a blow for freedom of expression."

Well, that's all very nice; and doubtless the votes also reflected some fondness for the music itself.  But I would have been rather curious to know what music the Academy actually liked, rather than what message they wanted to send.  After all, the Academy has made some exquisite choices in the past, and I would have appreciated their aesthetic advice this time around too.  Not to sound shocked or anything; one doesn't expect awards to be purely merits-driven, or at least one shouldn't after reading this book, and many others that tell similar stories.  Still, if one casts a vote for an award based on vindication grounds, and therefore not on the merits, isn't one saying that one can't see past the politics of the occasion, and thus negating the artist's vindication as an artist?  (And vice versa, of course; the CMA awards were likely no better indication of the merits of the work in the eyes of the country music community.)

Incidentally -- how's the music, you ask?  OK, in my view, but far from their best.  Leaving aside private individual decisions not to support the band, which may or may not have been wrong but was far from censorship, and leaving aside the trickier question of the actions taken during l'aiffaire Dixie by country radio and other corporate actors, I can't imagine what it's like to face heaps of death threats and vile messages, and I don't doubt I would be fixated by such an experience if it did befall me.  But it's too bad the whole album is built around it.  The righteousness and angry defiance, however justified by the band's personal experiences, wear thin pretty quickly over the course of the album.  Good production values, though!  And there's always the hope they'll introduce more people to Patty Griffin.  And at least they beat James Blunt!

Hat tip for the title goes to Maria McKee, by way of the D.C.   

Posted by Paul Horwitz on February 14, 2007 at 11:29 AM in Culture | Permalink


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Country music has a special position in my heart. One of country music band which I do love to listen to is The Dixie Chicks. They really know how to attract their audience’s attention and gather more fans and I’m no exception. They’re a great band thus they’ve won many awards and their popularity is fairly remarkable while in a concert. Tickets become pricy and hard to get. Lately a friend has recommended me a site where to compare ticket prices for free before purchasing.

Posted by: Santana | Mar 31, 2008 1:53:56 PM

Paul, you're definitely right to mention Lloyd Maines. I would hypothesize that Lloyd is the secret to their success, both in production and also in picking the right songs. I think Lloyd has a good "picker," in country music-speak.

Posted by: Christine | Feb 15, 2007 9:32:25 AM

I completely agree that this was far from her best work and this was all a matter of politics....

Natalie Maines is nothing more than a rednecked chick herself who in true redneck chick fashion popped off at an inappropriate time and place without thinking what she was saying or what the consequences of saying might be.... Now her handlers have decided to get her back on top by portraying her as a martyr for free speech and Sony went out and bought her 5 Grammy's.

Posted by: Paula The Surf Mom | Feb 15, 2007 1:31:07 AM

I’m interested to see what this adds to the dialog. Curious stuff in this independent film! :


Posted by: Natasha | Feb 14, 2007 11:14:12 PM

I'm afraid I'm not terribly familiar with the controversy, but didn't some large media companies basically blacklist them? If ClearChannel/Sinclair/etc made programming decisions solely on the basis of aesthetics or profit, I'd wholeheartedly agree with you. But once politics infiltrates some gatekeepers and tastemakers, they've got to expect some pushback.

Moreover, I haven't seen a better tribute to Charlotte Perkins Gilman than the "Not Ready to Make Nice" video.

Posted by: Frank | Feb 14, 2007 7:59:37 PM

Bart: I've already copped to enjoying spending a little time air-drumming along to Red Barchetta on the stereo (although, to paraphrase Mike Myers, Moving Pictures is basically issued to all Canadians with their birth certificates), so I won't speak up in defense of my musical taste.

Christine: I agree that it's a good album, and also that Home is a better all-around work. I think you've put your finger on what it is that ultimately grates about the album for me: not that they chose to write (or record, at least, since they often use other writers) on this subject, but that most of the songs keep harping on the "I'm at peace with that" aspect. It's clear that they're not, the number of songs on the subject make it doubly clear, and after about the fourth or fifth time they say "I'm at peace with that," you're wondering whether a little self-knowledge might not be in order -- if for no other reason than that it would greatly enrich the lyrics. It's a little like someone who keeps insisting that he really likes himself.

Again, I fully acknowledge that living the experience of receiving death threats must be very different from reading about it or listening to music about it, and I understand why they might be a little fixated on the subject. And I don't want to trash the band, which I quite like. In particular, I give mad props to the songwriters they've drawn on in their previous work -- Patty Griffin, Maria McKee, Bruce Robison. All great. This one just didn't do it for me. It might be better than the other nominess, and better than most other radio country, but I don't get my country music from country radio and I don't listen to the other nominees.

P.S.: One can't close a discussion with a Lubbockite without also giving props (apparently my word of the day -- circa 1998) to Lloyd Maines, Natalie Maines's father, who's produced some great musicians (see, e.g., Terri Hendrix), or to the mighty Flatlanders.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Feb 14, 2007 4:11:42 PM

"I must say also that, given a choice between Achtung Baby and Tears in Heaven, I'd opt for 'what else have you got?'" Well, then, I have to say, I don't think you have very good musical taste. Achtung Baby is one of the best albums ever recorded. Unbelievable composition, melodies, tight work by a great band, insanely good production values, great lyrics, absolute masterpiece from beginning to end. To put it more gently, I advise you to give it another listen.

The fascist backlash may have been 1st Amendment kool, but at least the cd smashing was also disturbingly reminiscent of book burning in Nazi Germany. And basically, those people were idiots. If we'd listened to all the dissidents who got bashed by patriot acts like Fox News, our nation would be much stronger today. The Dixie Chicks absolutely deserve their vindication. And in the absence of mea culpas from the irrationally exuberant war mongers, its as good as it gets.

Posted by: Bart Motes | Feb 14, 2007 3:39:27 PM

I bought the album the first day that it came out, but really only listened to it in one sitting this weekend as I drove to St. Louis. I still think Home is their best album, but I do like the new album. I had the same thought that you did, though -- does every song have to be on the "I am a nonconformist and have gotten spit on because of it but I'm at peace with that" theme? I'm also from Lubbock, but I like to think that if I wrote an album of country songs that not every song would be about how Lubbock is a metaphor for the short-sighted world that still doesn't understand me. Believe me, that theme resonates with me, but you're right -- a whole album is not necessary to get that point across. Still, I'm not sure it isn't the best country album of the year compared to the junk they play on the radio. The only other contender (for me) would be The Wreckers, Leave the Pieces.

Posted by: Christine | Feb 14, 2007 3:37:26 PM

Of course, the "fascist, know-nothing backlash" was also an exercise of the constitutionally protected speech rights of others. Taking the First Amendment out of the question, I agree with you that the affair was subject enough for an entire album. Great albums have been written about far less. But not this time, in my opinion. I must say also that, given a choice between Achtung Baby and Tears in Heaven, I'd opt for "what else have you got?"

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Feb 14, 2007 2:53:04 PM

The Grammys are a joke. I didn't know that they were on and haven't really paid much attention to them for several years. Two years ago, they picked Outkast's Love Below/Speakerboxx as best album. It was a good album, but not even Outkast's best. Then they totally jumped the shark and made U2's lamest album, How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, album of the year. Er, no. But just like The Departed, which is a great movie but probably not the best of the year, probably winning Scorcese best director as a kind of jumped up lifetime achievement award, the same effect was going on there. Of course, U2 got completely robbed for Achtung Baby, when the sympathy vote was in full effect for Eric Clapton's dreckfest over the tragic death of his son.

I haven't heard the Dixie Chicks' album and I'm not in a rush to. But I dispute the idea that surviving a fascist, know-nothing backlash to one's exercise of their constitutional protected right to free speech is not a worthy subject for an entire album.

Posted by: Bart Motes | Feb 14, 2007 2:40:14 PM

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