Introduced by folk-singing legend Joan Baez as “three brave women,” the Dixie Chicks took the stage at the 49th annual Grammy Awards ceremony to sing their no-apologies for dissenting anthem: “Not Ready to Make Nice.”
Baez, a veteran anti-war campaigner encouraged the crowd to “please listen closely” to the words of the song the Texas trio penned in response to efforts by conservative politicians and commentators to destroy the group’s career after lead singer Natalie Maines told a London crowd on the eve of the invasion of Iraq: “Just so you know, we’re ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas.”
At the time, Maines’s words represented a dangerous dissent from the heavily-spun status quo that said that invading and occupying Iraq was a good idea – and that Bush was a capable leader taking his country in a necessary direction. After Maines spoke up in March of 2003, the Dixie Chicks found themselves labeled “traitors.” Their music knocked off radio playlists nationwide and their CDs were rubbished at events organized by media outlets that once embraced the band. The trio faced threats not just to their livelihoods but to their lives.
Instead of backing down, they responded with a passionate embrace of freedom of speech, and a push back at Bush and his acolytes that culminated in defiant songs such as “Shut Up and Sing” and “Not Ready to Make Nice.” The latter tune declared: “I’m not ready to make nice, I’m not ready to back down, I’m still mad as hell…”
Maines is not the only one who is mad now. The realization that Bush lied the country into an unwise and unnecessary war – along with the recognition that the war has degenerated into a quagmire of nightmarish proportions – has made mainstream America every bit as embarrassed by Bush as the singer from Texas was four years ago.
Polls show that the vast majority of Americans now disapprove of Bush.
At the same time, record sales show that the vast majority of Americans approve of the Dixie Chicks. While the Dixie Chicks maintained much of their popularity even as they were being attacked by the right, they are today every bit as “on top” of the music scene as they were before Maines dared to dissent.
The album that contains “Not Ready to Make Nice” went to No. 1 on the charts last year, and remains a strong seller.
And, on Sunday night, the band that was once shunned by many in the music industry as “dangerous” did not just perform a triumphal rendition of their fight-back song.
The Dixie Chicks picked up five Grammies, including awards for best song, best record and album of the year.
When the history of the Bush presidency is written, it will be remembered by honest observers that there was always opposition to this president and his war. Despite the White House claims that everyone was behind the president when he sent U.S. troops into Iraq, the fact is that millions of Americans said “no.” And some of them did so at great risk to their careers and fortunes.
The Grammy Awards offer recognition of that courage – as well as the talent of three remarkably able musicians. They also recognize that the willingness of a few good citizens to exercise their Constitutional rights even in an era of oppressive spin eventually taught the great mass of Americans that it was not merely right but necessary to speak up.
As Natalie Maines said Sunday night: “I think people are using their freedom of speech tonight with all these awards.”
She’s got a point. The Grammy Awards are, first and foremost, celebrations of the music. But, this year, they were also celebrations of basic liberties and those who chose to employ them in the face of threats from the frightened little men who told not just the Dixie Chicks but every American who dared dissent to “Shut Up and Sing.”
John Nichols’ new book is