Dixie Chicks remind us of right to dissent

By Clyde Davis: CNJ Columnist

It began in a manner innocent enough. I was finally to the last stage of the bathroom painting project, which is a piece of the entire bathroom redecorating project, and was listening to one of my Father’s Day presents on the CD boombox player. This present, the new Dixie Chicks CD, was something I had specifically asked for and was lucky enough to be given.

 So begins the thought process, as I was immersed in the painting of details and the rhythmic genius of the gals from Texas who’ve taken such a beating. (Did you ever wonder why some people, or some comments, are such lightning rods ?) Not much has changed since they went on hiatus — if anything, they are better than ever. But this is not one of my music reviews. It is, after all, the Fourth of July weekend.

Fourth of July means freedom, the freedom with which we are blessed as a nation. Part of that freedom means the freedom to speak out about what you think, knowing that, however some may disagree, they cannot take that right from you. As somebody asked when I was discussing this with her, Can they (meaning famous people ) help it if we (meaning the public) have turned them into icons by hanging on their every word? That is our issue, not theirs.

The Dixie Chicks’ Natalie Maines never claimed, to my knowledge, to be a political or military expert. Like any of us, she is entitled to her opinion. Would a carpenter or waitress who spoke out against the war and disagreed with the administration be subject to death threats, or public revilement?  

The Dixie Chicks do seem to be a lightning rod. Remember “Goodbye, Earl”? The song recounts the humorous story of a wife-beater who meets an untimely end. If, like me, you listen to a fair share of country music, you will know that such themes are not uncommon

There’s Waylon Jennings’ “Don’t Let the Sun Set on You in Tulsa.” And Toby Keith’s song about how we ought to, well, kick certain parts of any nation that messes with us. The list could go on. The point is that, while there are, at any given time, a number of songs with rough themes, it seemed that only “Goodbye Earl” raised a fuss. Is it because some deejays only want to play songs that reflect the image of nice little blonde girls from Texas?

The point, however, is freedom of speech and whether or not we, by lionizing athletes, singers, actors and other artists, have removed from them certain rights that the rest of us enjoy. If we have, then we need to rethink our own attitude toward this. If you like the Dixie Chicks music, then buy their music. If you don’t, then don’t. Speaking for me, there is room on my CD shelf for both Natalie and Toby Keith, her erstwhile “political opposite.”

 Look at it another way. A friend of mine has a signature block on her e-mail: “Dissent is Patriotic.” Think about that. What happens to our nation, to our public viewpoint, when we become afraid to hear other opinions that perhaps do not tow the party line?

 Why would leaders be afraid to hear views differing from their own, or to give credence to those views? If they honestly believe they are following the right course, the thoughtfully used best course, then why would there be fear of questions and clarification.

 If musicians or radio personalities want to express patriotic feelings, rather than acting scared of dissent, how much better to do so with songs such as Aaron Tippin’s “Where The Stars and Stripes, and the Eagle Fly,” which doesn’t castigate anybody’s views, but focuses on our positive freedoms — including the freedom to dissent.