- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 2, 2003

So does this mean that if you drive a pickup truck with a gun rack, you won’t be able to buy the next Dixie Chicks record?

The Chicks, if you missed it, recently told German magazine Der Spiegel that they’ve had enough. They’re walking out the door and won’t be coming home.

If that sounds like the makings of a hard-luck country song, well, don’t hold your breath. The three lovely ladies from Texas say they’re leaving country behind.

“We don’t feel part of the country scene any longer,” Martie Maguire said. “It can’t be our home anymore.”

Miss Maguire said the band, which has sold more records and packed more stadiums in recent years than just about everybody else in Nashville combined, was disappointed by the lack of support from fellow country musicians over their anti-Iraq-war stance.

Lead singer Natalie Maines touched off the fireworks in March when she told a London concert crowd that she was “ashamed” that President Bush was from her home state of Texas.

Since then, Miss Maguire says, the group has been shunned on country radio stations and ignored on country awards shows.

In the Der Spiegel interview, Miss Maguire said: “A few weeks ago, Merle Haggard said a couple of nice words about us, but that was it. The support we got came from others, like Bruce Springsteen. So we now consider ourselves part of the big rock ‘n’ roll family.”

Miss Maguire, by the way, is the group’s fiddler. Her sister, Emily Robison, is the banjo picker.

And people wonder why guys such as Alan Jackson and George Jones and Toby Keith sing cheatin’ songs. Some flashy, smooth-talking rock ‘n’ roll god from Jersey whispers in the ears of the three prettiest women in country, and wham, bam, they’re gone.

There’s been no official response yet from country music, but sources say he’s been hitting the honky-tonks and drinking hard every night just to get the Chicks off his mind.

Seriously, though: Can you stop being country? Isn’t that like Tony Soprano saying he doesn’t want to be Italian anymore? I mean, if your band features banjos, fiddles and pedal steel, uh, where exactly do you go with that?

Does America really need a Dixie Chicks techno album?

What, exactly, did they expect? Nashville is in Tennessee, ladies. This is the state that voted for George W. Bush over its own native son.

Take a look at the map. Nashville is in the middle of the country. That great big electoral-map-red middle, where people say prayers at football games, mow their yards, raise families and hold their hands over their hearts during “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

How realistic is it to expect the artists who live in that conservative middle to defend a stupid, insulting remark about the president — in front of a bunch of foreigners, no less?

And why should they defend you? When John Lennon said the Beatles were bigger than Jesus, he didn’t whine when the Dave Clark Five were conspicuously silent while the Baptists were burning “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”

Miss Maguire said the band has been shunned?

Oh, please. Their North American tour last year grossed $61 million in ticket sales, making it the top country tour of the year.

When disc jockeys across the South were talking about boycotting the Chicks last spring, their single, the beautiful “Travelin’ Soldier,” chugged right along atop the charts, as did sales of the album it came from, “Home.”

And why not? If you like close harmonies, clever wordplay and dusty, sweet music that sounds like it could be played on someone’s porch, then you bought “Home” last year, and you’re probably still listening to it. It was, whether the County Music Association agreed or not, the best country album of the year.

And if after Natalie’s London comments you chose not to buy their CD down at the Wal-Mart, that’s fine, too. You vote with your dollars, and there were a lot of country artists to patronize who clearly staked out positions at the other end of the political spectrum. At least two guys had hits on which they sang about personally kicking Osama Bin Laden’s rear.

Listen, ladies. You want to tell Nashville to kiss off, that’s OK. You wouldn’t be the first or even the best. Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson both walked that path, and their rejection of the country music establishment hurt neither their careers nor their art.

You want to dabble in other genres? By all means, experiment. Some of Willie’s biggest records have been his interpretations of pop standards. Sheryl Crow and Kid Rock are on the country charts with a heartache song. The best country bands of the past decade, Wilco and the Jayhawks, put out records recently that sounded more like the Beatles than the Statlers.

You want to take your clothes off to get your picture on the cover of Entertainment Weekly? Well, old-fashioned fans like me will wince and get over it.

Most folks in that great big middle, from Arizona to Alabama and from Montana to Michigan, they’ll even stand for taking a jab or two at the president, whether they agree with you or not. Arguing over presidents is practically a national sport, after all.

But sounding off on the president wasn’t really what got you in trouble.

It was taking a shot in front of a foreign audience. At a time when American soldiers were in harm’s way.

Same thing with the comments about country music in a German rag. We hear whispers from foriegn lands. If you must tell us you don’t love us no more, tell us face to face. We’ll be heartbroken, we’ll miss you, and, eventually, we’ll move on.

And someday, when you want to come home, bring your fiddle and your mandolin. There will always be a place for the three of you on our front porch.

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