SHUT UP AND SING (BARBARA KOPPLE, CECELIA PECK)
Honestly, I can’t say I was a big fan of the Dixie Chicks. I consider myself one that’s open to a lot of different genres of music, but new country isn’t one of them. After watching Shut Up and Sing, I became very aware that not only did this trio of female’s exceptional music talent far exceed the bland twang of what’s heard on your average country radio station, they had, with their 2006 release Taking the Long Way, flowed into a genre all their own.
The story starts in 2003 when the Dixie Chicks performed at Shepard’s Bush Empire in the U.K. It was kind of ironic that “Bush” was in the name of the venue where lead singer Natalie Maines declared her disapproval of the U.S.’s planned invasion of Iraq when she stated “We’re embarrassed that the President is from Texas.”
Most of us know what happened as this announcement was made public by the U.K. press, traveling to our fear trodden, pro-U.S. and pro-President-anything-mode of “if you’re not for us your against us” mentality in this ‘merican country. We also saw their CDs run over by bulldozers as the Chicks, who were known for singing the national anthem and personifying all-American women, were now considered anti-American for speaking their mind…for using their freedom of speech rights, which is supposed to be a very American thing to do.
What we didn’t see was what Academy Award-winning filmmaker, Barbara Kopple, and Cecelia Peck captured that night and the three years following as the Dixie Chicks dealt with former country music fans who were blinded by the ignorant trust of the White House and called into radio stations, demanding the group’s banishment from the airwaves, protested at their concerts, made a public event ouf ot throwing their CDs into garbage bins, and even threatened the life of Ms. Maines. We feel their dismay at how this period of time had divided this country, and how they didn’t back down from what they believed in their hearts.
The three women go on with their lives and their careers, have babies, go trick-or-treating with their kids, love their husbands and their work, and realize that although the eight word statement changed their direction, they were still moving forward. This film is extremely personal, as we get to know the Dixie Chicks not just as performers, but as people who deal with thousands of people, the press, radio stations and the press all trying to bring them down. And they deal it all with a bit of defiance, tenacity, class and a huge sense of humor. One particular occassion for defiance came about when their PR gal and manager were discussing/arguing about the concept for the Rolling Stone cover where the three wore on their bare bodies all the names they had been thrown on them. The manager is trying to convince the PR person that this is a good idea and that this will be well recieved, but Ms. PR is afraid that “the American people aren’t that smart.” I can see her point, just look at all the Crok and Ug boot wearers out there. But I would have been on his side anyway, and it obviously went so well that they ended up using that pic for the movie poster.
Although they didn’t know what the future held one or two years after that night at Shepard’s Bush Empire, returning there three years later it was evident that the Dixie three had triumphed above it all. And for good measure, Natalie couldn’t resist repeating, “We’re embarrassed that the President is from Texas,” with a big grin as the sold-out audience roared with approval. Directors also couldn’t resist showing news clips of how things have changed since 2003, including how unpopular the President has become and how he and his one-way arrogant cronies had blundered this war and alienated our country from the world…many times over how the Dixie Chicks were alienated by the bleeding red, white and blue. And who would have known then that in this year’s race for the House and Senate, even Republican candidates would be distancing themselves from the President in order to get elected, but even that ploy didn’t work and the Dems are in charge for the first time in a while.
In 2006 you may not hear Taking the Long Way on the country radio stations, and the Chicks could care less. These days they’ve spread their wings into a wider stream of music fans, leaving the hee-haw mindset fan base in the dust. They even took the making of the album into unknown territories, recording in Los Angeles with rock and hip-hop producer Rick Rubin, and tapping the drum talents of Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Chad Smith. Like the film, you’ll feel and hear their raw emotions in the new music, the cathartic expressions in its lyrics, and a slight shift in musical direction. But the songs play more like an evolution that is still tied to their country roots.
Passing on the Country Music Awards, the Dixie Chicks will instead appear on this year’s is year’s is year’s is year’s is year’s is year’s is year’s is year’s is year’s is year’s is year’s is year’s is year’s is year’s is year’s American Music Awards, and will arrive here in Denver to perform at the Pepsi Center on November 27.
November 16, 2006