Not Ready To Make Nice: The Dixie Chicks Are A Punk Rock Treasure
Punk Rock has always been about defying the status quo. It’s about having the tenacity to express your discontent with the current state of anything from politics to social practice in a way that is comparable to shouting your message from the rooftops. Whether you deliver that message through a throaty yelp or a polished pop hook, the delivery does not change the intent. The goal is to aid in building a community around an ideal.
Now, I’m not going to sit here and pretend to be a genre historian. I can’t throw out any deep-cuts or hidden gems to create the illusion of credibility, but I am well versed enough to tell you this one thing: some of the biggest and best Punk bands of all time include The Misfits, Anti-Flag, and The Dixie Chicks.
Let’s talk about how “Earl Had to Die”. No, unfortunately, that’s not the name of the song. “Goodbye Earl” was huge, or at least, it was on as part of a constant rotation in my mom’s mini-van in the early 2000’s. Don’t let the latter half of that sentence fool you, this is only one of several Dixie Chicks jams that oozed heart and soul of Punk Rock. The lyrics tell a story of two girls who grew up together, only to be separated after high school graduation. The women in question are Mary Anne and Wanda. Mary Anne left the small town she grew up in while Wanda found love in a man (Earl) who would quickly become a monster. He became abusive and once Wanda had filed for divorce, he decided it was time to put her in the intensive care unit.
This is where shit gets real. Mary Anne found out about the abuse that Wanda was suffering, flew home, and the two quickly devised a plan to murder Earl. I mean, does it get more Punk Rock than the lyrics “That Earl had to die/goodbye Earl/Those black-eyed peas, they tasted alright to me, Earl/You’re feelin’ weak? Why don’t you lay down and sleep, Earl/Ain’t it dark wrapped up in that tarp, Earl?” Spoiler alert: fuckin’ a-yes it does.
The Dixie Chicks cemented their place as lowkey punk royalty in 2003. It was days before the U.S. invasion of Iraq when The Dixie Chicks took the stage and said, “We don’t want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.“ Imagine the amount of courage making that statement took. It’s not like The Dixie Chicks were a Rock band and known for being outspoken or brash; they are three women that existed deep in the heart and soul of the incredibly and often blindly world of Country Music. Obviously, this statement was met with an immediate outcry.
I’m sure it didn’t help that The Dixie Chicks were in midst of a feud with the king of all things Conservative and Country, Toby Keith. See, Keith released a song called “Courtesy of The Red, White, and Blue (The Angry American)” in 2002. (I dare you to listen to the song and tell me that my description of Keith isn’t an apt one. Back to the topic at hand,) Natalie Maines, the main vocalist of The Dixie Chicks, called the song an ignorant one, and I can’t say that I disagree. It was easy to see where the song came from, but it glorified the idea of war and violence. The feud became all but confirmed to the public when Maines pulled the original Joe Boynton (Transit) and wore a FUTK shirt to the Academy of Country Music Awards. This was essentially the final nail in the coffin of The Dixie Chicks’ Country Music career.
This was followed by three years of silence (musically, at least.)
The year is now 2006 and The Dixie Chicks have just released the best song of their career. As arguably the biggest (if not the only) single from their new album, ‘Taking The Long Way Home,’ “Not Ready to Make Nice” tackled everything leading up to this point in their career. The track is a brutal, no holds barred recounting of watching their careers, and effectively their lives, completely shift at the hands of a statement. The fact that something as American as expressing their First Amendment Right could have changed their lives so drastically.
The chorus of this song is essentially the mantra of Punk Rock, reading, “I’m not ready to make nice/I’m not ready to back down/I’m still mad as hell, and I don’t have time/To go ‘round and ’round and ’round/It’s too late to make it right/I probably wouldn’t if I could/’Cause I’m mad as hell/Can’t bring myself to do what it is/You think I should.” The song reaches its peak when Maines effectively loses her cool and belts one of the most emotionally driven verses that I’ve had the pleasure of hearing. The lyrics are haunting and will strike most to their core, reading, “I made my bed, and I sleep like a baby/With no regrets, and I don’t mind saying/It’s a sad, sad story/When a mother will teach her daughter/That she ought to hate a perfect stranger/And how in the world/Can the words that I said/Send somebody so over the edge/That they’d write me a letter/Saying that I better/Shut up and sing/Or my life will be over?”
In the face of so much criticism, The Dixie Chicks chose to stand behind what they said. When the Country Music world decided to shun them for it, The Dixie Chicks released the biggest and most anthemic Fuck You’s that I’ve ever heard. It’s an incredible and inspiring story of how three women who rose to fame in the heart of Country Music chose to not back down to their own community. The Dixie Chicks are Punk FUCKING Rock, and it’s about damn time they get the credit they deserve.