Country music in battle over patriotism, free speech

Country music in battle over patriotism, free speech

Oh, the gnashing of teeth! (Okay, this is the Tennessean. Tooth.) The rending of sackcloth! Oh, the humanity!

Some fans and observers say country music, in responding to Sept. 11 and subsequent global events, has gone beyond its traditional support of America and the armed forces and begun to cultivate an atmosphere that’s intolerant of dissent from the Bush administration’s strategies in the war on terror.

Country music fans being intolerant? That’s unconcievable!

Rabble-rousing songs by Toby Keith and Darryl Worley have become smash hits. Widespread radio station boycotts of Dixie Chicks music after lead singer Natalie Maines’ critical remark about President Bush in London left many thinking that country music was drawing ideological lines.

Okay, I call spin-alert. “Rabble-rousing” is an inherently prejudicial term. “Critical remark” is about the softest way to refer to the direct insult tossed out at the concert.

”If you were just casually listening to country radio in the last year, you would think it was the music of Republicans,” says Beverly Keel, country music journalist and Middle Tennessee State University associate professor. ”That’s (been) reinforced with the way the Dixie Chicks have been treated.”

It is the music of Republicans. So what? Rap is the music of Democrats by this reasoning. Who cares?

The environment, she says, may be leading to self-censorship on Music Row.

Here is where it gets juicy. Apparently, Bev gets her boxers in a bunch if commercial artists actually have to give their fans what they want to hear. Imagine that — artists actually crafting their work to accommodate the wants of their buyer rather than just saying, “There it is, now buy it and shut up.”

”Unfortunately, there’s a climate right now that probably strikes fear in the heart of singers and songwriters who don’t agree with the prevailing winds,” she says.

‘Oh, how will society survive it? The idea that if you piss off your customers they might not buy your products? Thinking like that could crush our socialist utopia!

The vast majority of songs on country radio today deal with love, nostalgia and homefront concerns, but the outsized impact of the stars-and-stripes songs and the strong divisions over the Dixie Chicks’ right to be on the radio is setting a new tone, according to CMT editorial director and longtime country music chronicler Chet Flippo.

Look. No one is challenging the Dixie Chick’s right to be on the radio. What is being challenged is whether it is a good business choice for a Country station to play a Dixie Chicks song. The Dixie Chicks have — right now and in the future — the right to be on the radio. That is a first Amendment right and I have not heard a single person say that they should lose that. By the same token, a radio station owner has the right to refuse to play any music that he chooses to exclude. It’s his station, he decides what to play. If your livelihood depends on that station, don’t piss that station off.

The consolidation of the radio industry, with its concentrated power and targeted demographic programming, has contributed to the new environment, Flippo says.

”When the head of Cumulus (Media) can decide single-handedly to ban the Chicks, the public is given no voice in that at all, and that’s something that wouldn’t have happened a dozen years ago,” he says.

The public has a voice. Their voice is the almighty dollar. Cumulus did that because it got them listeners. When it wasn’t something that was profitable anymore, the ban was lifted. This isn’t a debate about free speech. It is about capitalism vs. fascism.

That could be remedied to a large degree, he notes, by getting past the Dixie Chicks controversy and getting them back on the air.

In other news, Michael Jackson is planning to get past that child molestation controversy and get back on the air, while Ike Turner is planning to get past the wife-beating controversy and get back on the air. OJ is planning to get past the double-murder controversy and get back into making Naked Gun movies.

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