By Sarah Bennett
By Adam Lovinus
By Jena Ardell
By Nate Jackson
By Gustavo Arellano
By Nick Keppler
By Nate Jackson
By Alex Distefano
If I were married to Natalie Maines, I'd hunt down Toby Keith and beat him cross-eyed with a Louisville Slugger. A mound of quivering red paste would lie where Keith once stood in all his reactionary galloot glory. Next, I'd invite big, stinky Michael Moore to sit his fat, naked, white-man ass upon the remains of Keith's face while singing the Clash's "Clampdown" off-key with a crowd of Iraqis cheering him on. You see, I'm pretty certain that witnessing Keith picking Moore's dingleberries out of his teeth is exactly what America needs to get back on the right track. Lucky for me, I'm not married to Maines, so I don't have to follow through with all this unpleasantness and spend time on a prison block full of Toby Keith types. But Keith—a lowlife bully and piss-poor excuse for a country music artist—definitely deserves a squishy fat-guy salad toss, no question about it.
In the last year or so, the cretins have been a-crawlin' out of the woodwork on the country music scene, muscles all a-flexin' and a-poppin', to browbeat a trio of little girls known as the Dixie Chicks. The Chicks' crime, of course, was that singer Maines had the temerity to publicly oppose the policies of George W. Bush's illegitimate Fourth Reich. That she did so rather meekly—that she seems a demure type who is unwilling or unable to state her case with much in the way of acuity, wit or conviction—excited the lynch mob all the more.
It's a great career move for losers like Keith, passing off his desperation for publicity as he-man patriotism. Even the lead singer of the Marshall Tucker Band—a group so has-been that Bob Hope thinks they're lame—managed to get his sorry mug back on national television by picking a fight with Maines. A real buncha tough cowboys, these fellas.
It seems that ever since Merle Haggard unleashed his hippie-baiting "Okie From Muskogee" back in the '60s (and subsequently tried to distance himself from the monster he'd created, as everyone seems to forget), country music, like reactionary patriotism itself, has become the refuge of many a scoundrel. This unfortunate attachment of the elitist right to country music flies in the face of the genre's history and pedigree, of course (more on that later), but why should inconvenient facts interfere with a perfectly exciting football game—that we're winning? Woof! Woof! Woof!
America is the only country in the world whose media don't report the price of war. Our broadcast and most print "journalists" have become just another arm of the government, the White House's propaganda ministers, an Orwellian entity of horrifying dimensions. We don't see dead babies with their brains leaking from cracked little skulls while fire ants feed upon the gray matter. Instead, we get Donald Rumsfeld pooh-poohing government critics like a disapproving, beady-eyed schoolmarm; we get Prince Dubya proudly proclaiming us safe from Saddam's "noo-kya-ler" weapons program, which may not have existed; we get yellow ribbons and bundt cakes and the Stars and Stripes waving at us from SUV antennas like swastikas from Gestapo limos.
We live in an era where a shrieking harridan like Ann Coulter even pulls off the neat trick of marketing fascism as cheesecake. She claims the entire Democratic party—roughly half the country, mind you—is guilty of treason, but utters this j'accuse with a look in her eye that says she'd blow you with a mouth full of ice cubes, so no one seems to find her particularly dangerous or even offensive.
Now, I wouldn't deny Coulter, Keith or any other doctrinaire right-wing scumbags their right to spray evil and stupidity all over the airwaves. I'd even find their hyperventilating devotion to misery to be amusing theater, were it not for the fact that Maines, Moore and every other public figure who speaks with even the slightest leftist bent are subject to vilification and organized boycotts. You don't support our beloved li'l Dubya? You're clearly a traitor—burn in hell, fucker.
Maybe what the Bush Brigade ought to be boycotting is country music itself. This was, after all, originally the music of the poor, downtrodden and dispossessed, not the Skull & Bones silver-spoon set. Jimmie Rodgers, well known as the Father of Country Music, sang about being broke, riding the rails, suffering in dank jail cells and hoboing around a cold, cruel, Depression-era America. Same with such contemporaries as Harry McClintock and Goebel Reeves. Blind Alfred Reed's classic "How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live" is framed with tales of police brutality, corrupt religious figures and mass starvation and furnished with greedy rich fucks. Woody Guthrie spent a good deal of his career with a placard that read THIS MACHINE FIGHTS FASCISM taped to his guitar. Johnny Cash's "What Is Truth" was as pointed an antiwar anthem as anything Phil Ochs ever wrote. Ya can't hardly picture any of these esteemed country gentlemen chanting "YEW-ESS-AY! YEW-ESS-AY!" while taking in Sean Hannity's latest brat-rant on Fox News. In modern times, we still have the lonely voice of grizzled ex-con Steve Earle singing furiously pissed-off songs protesting war and government propaganda. Ironically, you don't see Keith spoiling for a fight with Earle now, do ya? It would seem that Maines is an easier mark, her biceps less intimidating.
As for Maines and her fellow Chicks, their brand of country music is wholly innocuous; scrubbed free of any political stance, a happy-face, good-time sound. The funny thing is, though, they play the beejeeziz out of their instruments like proper hillbilly gals, rather than simply emitting a constipated, monotone grunt and pretending to strum a guitar like the talent-free poseur Keith, whose main claim to fame is composing the galloot anthem "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)." So who's really more country—Keith or Maines?
Final word: I ain't no kinda knee-jerk liberal. I guardedly supported the war in Iraq; guardedly, because while I recognized that the world would be a much better place without the likes of Saddam Hussein and that pure pacifism is about as realistic as Teletubbies, I knew there'd be a horrible price to pay for his removal, that we were going in there for all the wrong reasons, and that the Bush administration had no intention of protecting the already brutalized Iraqi citizenry and establishing a representative democracy once the dirty deed had been done. So I'm relieved that Saddam is apparently cowering in a sand dune wearing shit-stained BVDs somewhere, but I'm frightened and appalled that this country continues to turn a blind eye as the current administration endeavors to rape the Bill of Rights with its Patriot Act, whose title alone implies that those who disagree with its very premise might be treasonous. Meanwhile, the American media continue to sieg heil it all to the beat of bad country music. You know, I may well be an even angrier American than Keith.
Meanwhile, go see the Dixie Chicks Sunday and Monday at the Pond. They're cute, they're fun, they're great musicians, and whatever Maines may lack in political eloquence to back up her instincts, she makes up for in having the sand to swim against a very foreboding tide. In fact, I'd say she's a lot more courageous than a turd named Toby.The Dixie Chicks at the Arrowhead Pond, 2695 E. Katella Ave., Anaheim, (714) 704-2500. Sun.-Mon., 8 p.m. $35-$65.