The Dixie Chicks and the Good Soldiers

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Natalie Maines was just warming up when, on March 10, 2003, 10 days before the Iraq invasion, the lead singer of the Dixie Chicks stepped up to the mic on stage at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire Theatre in London and said, "We’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas." In the vivacious new documentary Shut Up & Sing: Dixie Chicks, Maines is seen watching TV later in 2003 as George Bush opines on the Dixie Chicks boycott that sprang up in opposition to her comment. When he tells Tom Brokaw, "They shouldn’t have their feelings hurt just because some people don’t buy their records when they speak out," Maines explodes. "‘They shouldn’t have their feelings hurt’? What a dumb f---."

Was that another slip of the mouth, an impromptu word geyser for which Maines would soon have to issue a diplomatically worded clarification? Not hardly. With exquisitely brisk timing, she turns to the documentary camera and, as if exasperated with the ignorance of some hayseed who happens to be the Chief Executive, says, "You’re a dumb f---."

There ya go, down-home protesters and country music programmers. You got your red-state, red-meat headline: Dixie Chicks Lead Singer Calls President a Dumb F---. The pop country trio — with Emily Robison (fiddle, etc.) and Marcie Maguire (dobro, etc.) sawing and strumming up a storm behind Maines — already seems to be spending more time on NPR than on CMT. Now the only network to welcome them may be Pacifica.

Standing up for what you believe in, and being prepared to pay the price, is the theme of two fine new non-fiction films. Barbara Kopple and Cecilia Peck’s Shut Up & Sing had its world premiere this week at the Toronto International Film Festival, with the Chicks in attendance. Patricia Foulkrod’s The Ground Truth, which opened Friday in New York and eight other cities, and is available on DVD Sept. 26, details the harrowing experiences of soldiers in Iraq and after they returned home.

I wouldn’t for a second equate losing airplay for your new CD (which went platinum anyway) with losing a limb, your innocence, your mind or your life in a war. But both docs trace a similar journey: the awakening of political activism among young folks from the heartland who feel they must speak out against the war, come what may.

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