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Sioux City Journal (US)
March 28, 2003

Brave Chick or chicken?

by Bruce R. Miller, Journal staff writer

Was Natalie Maines a Dixie Chicken when she told a British crowd she was ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas? Or was she just a concerned America, exercising her right to free speech?

Ask radio listeners in the South and they'll tell you they're destroying Dixie Chicks CDs and boycotting the group's concerts. Ask fellow artists and they come away with a decidedly different view.

Although Maines has since apologized, saying her remark was disrespectful, she is still at the center of a storm that doesn't appear to be going away.

Celebrities have always used their platform to speak out about issues. But now, at a volatile time in world politics, is it right?

"She was just trying to stir up something, trying to be cool," says fellow country singer Mark Chesnutt. "She was dead ass wrong. Whether or not you agree with this war, you need to support the troops. They're doing their job. The president is just trying to make sure that she can go over there and say the stupid stuff she's saying."

Had the Dixie Chicks been known for making political statements, the outcry might not have been so immediate, others say.

"There's no confusion where I stand," says singer Tori Amos. "But I'm always quite vocal -- that hasn't changed in 11, 12 years." Had she made the statement, it might not have provoked such a reaction. But, Amos says, tossing off a comment isn't the best way to send a message. "As a musician, you try and hold a place for people on all sides of the issue to come to."

Heavily involved with victims of sexual abuse, Amos says she has received letters from rapists as well as victims "and, at a certain point, once you've done your healing, you don't want to be contributing to the conflict. You want to get to the core -- why does it keep occurring?"

Instead of making a headline-worthy statement, Amos says she may have pitched for peace by singing "Abraham, Martin and John." "The power is in the music."

Chestnutt agrees. But he says the Chicks should just "do their jobs. They're paid to entertain people. What do they think, they're the voice of the people? They're entertainers."

Bashing the president "is a slap in the face to the people who bought their albums and tickets to their concerts. She's saying, 'You know what? You should be ashamed, too.' Well, I'm from Texas, too, and that's not the way I feel."

What Chestnutt and others may not understand is the level of anti-American sentiment in Europe, Amos says. Just back from the European leg of her tour, she says "you walk down the street and they call you a murderer. [People there] hate us and think we're for murdering."

To complicate the issue, British Prime Minister Tony Blair "is not being supported by his own party. He's being kept in by the enemy. That's how volatile it is. Well, in walk the Dixie Chicks and they don't come from reading the New Statesman every day or the Observer. So, naturally, there's this kind of vehemence that you're getting from a crowd that is going to tear anybody up."

In Europeans' eyes, "We are Cruella de Vil... we want to skin the puppy. We aren't Roger and Anita. Once you get that, once you understand how our leaders have presented this issue, you understand how they have failed us miserably in the presentation."

As a result? Amos didn't talk politics on stage. "If you go over there, you will be heartbroken. If you love your country, you will say, 'Not all of us are belligerent, that we believe we have the ability to kill everybody we want.' But that's how it gets translated."

Chesnutt doesn't deny that the Chicks are talented. He just believes "you should leave the politicking to the politicians. (Maines has) a right to say what she wants, but she needs to watch what she says when she's in a fishbowl."

Amos says an artist can accomplish more with the "piano/love angle" because it provides a place where everyone can meet. Something like Toby Keith's "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)" "isn't my American way," Amos says. "I look at Walt Whitman's Civil War poetry or 'A Farewell to Arms' or Johnny Cash's 'Don't Take Your Guns to Town.' We have a tradition of great poets -- people who can see both sides and be able to hold a space for people on all sides of the issue to come and remember what our moral compass is. This is where you know what you're made of."


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