Dumbass Country Music
By Tom Edwards, Overlord-In-Chief, Buhner.com

    Tonight I had the privilage of watching some country music awards show.  It was a major one, on CBS.  I was raised in a half country music household, and Tara's got this thing for country music now, so I've gotten used to it, and dare I say, I actually like a few songs.  Anyway, as expected, massive heel heat (wrestling term, read: BOO) for The Dixie Chicks.  Jesus.  You watch a special like this one, and you see how mainstream country music has gotten, you see the more contemporary style of music, and you think that maybe, just maybe, country music can gain some kind of acceptibility in the mainstream United States.  Then you listen to a three hour Dixie Chicks joke and realize "no, still a bunch of backwoods yokels."

    The Chicks (or mainly Natalie Maines, the lead singer of the group) made some comments a while back, while touring in England, saying that she was ashamed of President Bush, and basically made comments to imply that she was against declaring war against Iraq.  The war hadn't started yet, and Maines made her opinion just like everyone else did, whether it be for or against the war.  Unfortunately for her, she did it in front of a bunch of people on stage, and she made the mistake of being a country musician while saying it.

    Country musicians, if you haven't figured out already, like their country.  Country fans, for the mostpart, are people who would support their country, regardless of what it does, because that's something you just do.  To not support your country in un-American.  This immedately put Maines (and the Chicks, by default) in the crosshairs.  Every minor person who felt the need to get publicity took a stand against the Chicks, trying to get the easiest popularity they possibly could, by stating that they were pro-USA, and therefore anti-Dixie Chicks.  Radio stations arranged boycotts.  Politicians and religious leaders called for people to not go to the upcoming Chicks tour, which would deeply hurt the Chicks, of course, considering that the tickets had been sold already.

    Why the uproar?  Just as a musician screams out how great it is to be in [YOUR TOWN HERE], people in the country music industry know that the easiest way to kiss the ass of the country music buying public is to be patriotic.  You could be a flat-out racist, spitting out lyrics of hate every other song, but if you put out a song about how great America is, you're a great American.  Lee Greenwood still has a career because he recorded "God Bless The USA".

    The September 11th terrorist attacks caused a lot of people to put pen to paper and express what they were feeling.  Two of the best examples of songwriting that came out of that time were Alan Jackson's "Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)" and Toby Keith's "Courtesy Of The Red, White, And Blue (The Angry American)".  Both songs, although very different, showed a lot of emotion, and demonstrated how many Americans felt that day, whether it be sorrow (Jackson) or anger (Keith).  The songs were written for the right reason, and feel that way.  They're don't come off as forces or "pre-produced."

    Fast-foward to a few months ago.  Maines makes her comments about Bush, people get pissed off, and Keith's song (because it encourages retaliation) is getting bigtime airplay, not only on country stations, but even on mainstream radio stations.  Darryl Worley (or his label, whomever), sees dollar signs.  Written reportedly in December of 2002 during a USO tour, Worley's song, "Have You Forgotten?" gets performed for the first time in January, and begins to become the anthem for the war, and the "answer" to Maines' comments.  The song was finally released as a single on March 25th, fifteen days after Maines made her comments in England.

    Interesting timing.

    Then, with the dollar signs still there, Worley (or the label, I don't know how these things work) grab some duct tape and put together an actual album of music, released three weeks later.  The album, cleverly titled Have You Forgotten?, has the title track as the first song on the album (as someone once told me, if they put the hit as the first song, they don't want you to hear the rest of the album), along with three other new songs inspired by his USO trip, six songs from the album he released JUST LAST YEAR, and six songs from an album released in 2000.  Take a quick picture of Worley in front of a flag, and *poof*, "new" album.  That'll be $18.99.

    Of course, the country fans ate it up.  Have You Forgotten? (The Album) has been at the top of the Billboard country charts since its debut. [note: as I put this out today, the day after I started writing, new Billboard lists came out which list Toby Keith's album having knocked Worley's out of the top spot on the country chart.  The single is down to #7]  The single has been near the top of country playlists for what seems like forever, despite the glaring fact that the lyrics of the song support the war with IRAQ because of the 9/11 attacks (which Worley asks us if we have forgotten.)  As I've stated before, as much as some would like you to believe, and as easy as it might be to mesh the two of them together, Osama Bin Laden is NOT Saddam Hussein.  Saddam is fatter, and has a mustache and a beret.  Bin Laden wears a white turban-like thing and is very skinny.

    Oddly enough, The Dixie Chicks current album has been flip-flopping with Toby Keith's at the two and three slot in the chart.  Apparently, there are a lot of people buying the album to go throw it in a dumpster out of protest.

    Anyway, with the war pretty much over (for now), pretty much everyone has managed to go back to normal life in the world of country music.  People are back to singing about deadbeat husbands, lost loves, pickup trucks, and their momma.  However, as tonight's awards thing showed, country fans (and performers as well) are still apparently deep down inside bitter little rednecks who are doing nothing to make their image look any better on a national stage.

    Think what you want about the Dixie Chicks, but from a strictly musical standpoint, they are probably country music's best opportunity to "cross over" without sacrificing their musical style.  While Faith Hill and Shania Twain have had mainstream success, most people in the country industry feel that they put out a more mainstream product now, which may be more country influenced, but borders more pop than country.  The Chicks, on the other hand, have remained true to their musical style.  Their sound is pure country, despite the presence of a cover of Stevie Nicks' "Landslide" on the current album Home.  

    But, for the sake of attempting to get a few laughs (and at the same time to distance themselves from the Chicks), there were several jokes and shots taken at the Chicks all night.  Host Reba McEntire, when not proudly showing off her breasts, threw in several jabs, many of which came in the opening segment.  While some comments were good natured (mentioning the Chicks not being invited to George Bush's birthday party), they did nothing to help the situation.  Every mention of the Chicks was met with a decent amount of boos, with absolutely no musical artist daring to defend the Chicks at any time.  The closest anyone came that night was Vince Gill, who mentioned after hearing the crowd boo the Chicks after reading their name as a nominee for an award that "the first ones to benefit from forgiveness are you".  It got some applause and generally quieted the crowd, but that small gesture was the closest anyone went to trying to make this situation die down a bit.

    The lack of support from their own industry does nothing but hurt country music, when the most popular stars from the genre are constantly stirring the pot of controversy and not letting an old issue die.  The issue reeks of a 50's Communist witch hunt, where everyone is afraid to defend the Chicks in fear that they too might be labeled "un-American" and lose album sales.  The Chicks have already sold over six million albums for the 38 weeks their current album Home has been on the charts.  In 31 weeks, Faith Hill's Cry has sold only two million albums, while in 26 weeks, Shania Twain's Up! has yet to even go gold (500,000 albums sold).  Their concerts are sold out, and scheduled "protests" aren't having the effect that one might think they'd have.  In another few years, the whole thing will blow over, and the Chicks will release a new album, while will sell well at first, and remain selling depending on how good the actual album is.  But if certain stations and performers get what they want, punishment for Maines and the Chicks by losing their popularity, it hurts them in the end.  Country music, as a whole, loses popularity, and the less people there are who buy and listen to the Chicks, the less people there are who discover country music for the first time, find the country music station on their dial, and buy other artists albums they hear on that radio station.

    Country music is an industry that needs to grow up and step out of the southern backwoods and into the 21st century.  It's sad when we have to look at the example set by the industry towards Fred Durst's comments at a recent award show speaking out against war.  The industry saw it, shrugged it's shoulders, and basically said "yeah, but Fred's a dumbass" and moved on.  Country music should think about doing that, before the music buying community does it to country music first.

    Tom Edwards runs this joint.  He was also never a country music fan, until his wife played it over and over in their home and car.  He's learned to tolerate it, and even like some of it.  He won't admit it, though.