Monday, April 16, 2007

Shut Up & Sing

On March 10, 2003, Natalie Maines, lead singer for the Dixie Chicks, said to a London concert audience: "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." The quote was abbreviated, printed first in The Guardian, taken up by the AP, and thus subsequently set off a thoroughly ridiculous media firestorm.

Shut Up and Sing is a fascinating documentary feature directed by Barbara Kopple and Cecilia Peck, which follows the Dixie Chicks through "The Incident," as the Chicks themselves refer to it, the aftermath, and later the recording and promotion of their newest record, "Taking the Long Way." Run, don't walk, to your local video store, or to your Netflix queue, and see the movie.

There's a lot of husbands and babies in the movie, a lot of Simon Renshaw, the Chicks' manager, shouting for them to put a baby down and get on stage, a lot of hair and make-up, writing and re-writing lyrics, structuring their musical arrangements, and so forth. There's also, perhaps more interestingly, a lot of discussion about their careers. They are very career-minded ladies. I guess it surprised me--I fell for the patina of their music, maybe--to see that they're ambitious, calculating businesswomen with clear goals and high standards.

The movie has big emotional impact--especially for me since I'm a big fan--following Maines down the arena corridor in Dallas, at the performance which followed a credible death threat. She doesn't address it dirrectly in the film, but the show goes on. The indirect repercussions of the threats are felt throughout the band, and fiddle-player Martie Maguire later breaks down when discussing how hard it might be on Maines. "If she came to me today and wanted to quit..." she says.

It's a shame the film can't end with the 2007 Grammy Awards, in which the Dixie Chick's sweep every category that they're nominated for--five in total--after having been vilified in the music industry to such a degree.

Of course, what you take away from the movie in the end, is what huge effect a few words can have, and how fragile Freedom of Speech actually is in America--when the speech is contrary to the popular opinion.

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