- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 20, 2003

Waitin' for the love of the travelin' soldier/Our love will never end/Waitin' for the soldier to come back again The Dixie Chicks, "Travelin' Soldier"

NASHVILLE — At 5:40 on a typical morning in Talladega, Ala., the roads are empty, the streetlights are on, and most of the radio audience should still be inbed. That's why it was such a surprise to Jim Jacobs, owner of WTDR, Talladega's local country station, when the switchboard lit up in the control room.
"In my 28 years in radio, I've never seen anything like it. The phones exploded," Mr. Jacobs says.
The morning jocks had just read a story off the Associated Press wire reporting a passing comment that Natalie Maines, lead singer of the country trio the Dixie Chicks, had made the night before at the Chicks' concert in London. Pandering to European anti-Bush sensibilities, Miss Maines, a native of Lubbock, Tex., had said, "Just so you know, we're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas."
Talladega, home of the Talladega Superspeedway, is the Vatican City for NASCAR fans. Talladega is not a seedbed of anti-war sentiment.
"The six lines stayed lit for two and a half hours. We were only able to answer 250 calls and missed more than that," Mr. Jacobs says. Most callers were telling WTDR to pull the Dixie Chicks off the air, so the station began to poll its listeners.
According to Mr. Jacobs, "248 said to ditch the Chicks, and only two said to keep them." Since then, the Dixie Chicks haven't been played, and WTDR has received more than 700 e-mails, mostly supporting its decision. (Its Web site has had more than 42,000 hits since the press release.)
Within a couple of days, stations all over the country, and especially in Texas, were getting the same kind of reaction from their listeners. According to Angela King, associate country editor at Radio and Records magazine, "Fans weren't just upset about the comments, but the fact that she made them in front of a foreign audience. That's betrayal to them."
The Dixie Chicks, who are getting ready to start a U.S. tour May 1, then began damage control. In an initial effort to stop the hemorrhaging and unpack her position, Miss Maines released an unrepentant mea culpa saying, "I feel the president is ignoring the opinions of many in the U.S. and alienating the rest of the world." That clarification only added fuel to the fire.
Two days later, Miss Maines released another statement that apologized to President Bush for "being disrespectful." At this point, however, the media were hanging on to this one like a dog with a wet towel, and the Dixie Chicks had a problem.
Stars getting on their soapboxes is nothing new. In the past few months, Sean Penn, Susan Sarandon and Martin Sheen, among many others, have been sounding off in opposition to regime change in Iraq. The agitprop of Hollywood stars rarely elicits the kind of allergic reaction that the Dixie Chicks have caused.
Michael Medved, nationally syndicated talk-show host and author of "Hollywood vs. America," points out that the commercial pressures in country music are very different than in Hollywood. "Country music has a far more conservative audience and tends to be pro-faith, pro-family and patriotic," Mr. Medved says.
Hollywood stars also are more insulated by their industry than singers and, as Mr. Medved points out, "The only reason you buy a Dixie Chicks album is for the Dixie Chicks. If they do something wrong, they are more vulnerable to fan scrutiny and can suffer commercially."
In sharp contrast to the witty sloganeering and artful street theater of the activist left, conservatives tend to be lazy and lacking in imagination when it comes to organizing outrage.
But conservatives are not to be confused with rednecks.
Blue-state elitists snicker at John Q. Pickuptruck, but unlike his conservative brethren, when John Q. decides to put his boot down, it comes down hard, and it stays down. He doesn't forget. Just ask Jane Fonda. On any given day, you still can find a truck with a bumper sticker that says "Hanoi Jane" or "Jane Fonda: American, traitor …."
Though Miss Maines' comments don't rise to the level of hugging the North Vietnamese on camera at a POW camp, they do irritate a bruise that has grown from the entertainment industry's perceived betrayal of Middle America's values.
"Country fans are tired of entertainers taking the celebrity stage that they've been given by the fans and using it for a political platform," Jim Jacobs says. "They like the Dixie Chicks for their music, not their views on foreign policy."
When it comes to country fans and the acts they love, there is a profound sense of ownership. As hokey as it might sound, country artists are not just stars, but patron saints of a lifestyle and spokesmen for the working class.
"Fans reacted with a proprietary sense, in the same way a rap artist would react if David Duke put out a rap song," Mr. Medved analogizes to illustrate the sense among country fans that something belonging to them has been hijacked.
For now, the Dixie Chicks are still on top with a No. 1 album on the Billboard chart and No. 1 song, "Travelin' Soldier," according to R&R.; But just so you know, down south, they're ashamed these Chicks are from Dixie.
Billy Cerveny is a singer-songwriter and free-lance journalist based in Nashville, Tenn. He can be found at www.billycerveny.com.


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