Friday, January 13, 2012

"Not Ready to Make Nice" - Dixie Chicks

By the time they launched their 2003 European tour, the Dixie Chicks were head and shoulders the dominant force in country music. In 1998, they had sold more albums than all other country acts combined. But on March 10, 2003, at a concert in London, lead singer Natalie Maines -- inspired by massive demonstrations against the Bush Administration and the impending Gulf War -- declared to the 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 result was a furore in Texas and elsewhere in the southern US which toppled the Chicks from their country-music pedestal, though they eventually emerged more popular than ever for a general audience -- a trajectory captured dramatically in the documentary Shut Up and Sing (the title drawn from "Not Ready to Make Nice"; see "Other Resources"). At the height of war fever, the jingoism led to bans by conservative media outlets, or those fearing their conservative audiences, on the playing of any Dixie Chicks songs. At least two deejays were fired for defying the ban. President George W. Bush, Jr. issued a typically snide comment on the controversy and the aggressive blacklisting:
The Dixie Chicks are free to speak their mind. They can say what they want to say ... they shouldn't have their feelings hurt just because some people don't want to buy their records when they speak out ... Freedom is a two-way street ... I don't really care what the Dixie Chicks said. I want to do what I think is right for the American people, and if some singers or Hollywood stars feel like speaking out, that's fine. That's the great thing about America. It stands in stark contrast to Iraq ...

The fact that Maines had issued her comments on "foreign soil" further rankled the redneck set. When the Dixie Chicks returned to the southern US, they confronted continued boycotts, stuttering ticket sales, and -- more seriously -- death threats against Maines that led at points to the group being placed under police escort to and from concerts and airports. The wounds are still raw:

It's a sad sad story when a mother will teach her
Daughter that she ought to hate a perfect stranger
And how in the world can the words that I said
Send somebody so over the edge
That they’d write me a letter
Sayin' that I better shut up and sing
Or my life will be over

So wrote Maines and her bandmates in their triumphant 2006 return to the spotlight, "Not Ready to Make Nice" -- the first single from their album Taking the Long Way:

The core of the anthemic appeal is clearly the chorus, but the opening two stanzas also hold potential as a lead-in:

Forgive, sounds good
Forget, I’m not sure I could
They say time heals everything
But I'm still waiting.

I'm through with doubt
There's nothing left for me to figure out
I've paid a price
And I’ll keep paying.

I'm not ready to make nice
I'm not ready to back down
I'm still mad as hell and
I don’t have time to go round and round and round
It's too late to make it right
I probably wouldn't if I could
'Cause I'm mad as hell
Can't bring myself to do what it is you think I should.

It seems to me a highly appropriate anthem for feminist-oriented causes especially. More generally, it serves as a declaration of steely determination in the face of reactionary attack, and attempts to co-opt or pander to aggrieved progressive movements.

Other Resources

Song available on Dixie Chicks, Taking the Long Way (2006), track 3.

Wikipedia page for "Not Ready to Make Nice."

Full lyrics.

A live performance of the song for MTV:

The great documentary Shut Up and Sing (directed by Barbara Kopple and Cecilia Peck), which captures the controversy over Natalie Maines's comments, can be viewed in its entirety on YouTube, albeit with hardcoded Portuguese subtitles:

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