Not Ready To Make Nice

Simon Renshaw has just come from Sony. The label’s flipping, the new Dixie Chicks album can’t get played on country radio. Would the band consider doing more TV?

Who does the interviewing? Do they have to play live? These are the questions Martie asks. And then Natalie jumps in and asks why they can’t be like Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan. Are they rock stars or whores?

All Sony is interested in is money. Yup, the biggest selling act on the label has got the company’s number.

We’re inundated with a rap war, "American Idol" chatter, but if you want to know what really goes on in the record business, watch this Dixie Chicks movie, "Shut Up & Sing".

I’m not sure what causes a band to document its life on film. As if what’s going on with them really matters. And, at first, while watching this film on Cinemax, I was laughing. I mean, who cared?

Then it became clear, the DIXIE CHICKS CARED!

We sit at home. We’re not public figures. We’re not the victims of all that vitriol. But when you go from hero to zero almost instantly, not foreseeing the change, it does something to you. What kind of nut would send a death threat?

This nation used to be ruled by rock and roll. You bought the records and went to the show to get closer, to unadulterated truth, unadulterated power. The musicians weren’t playing the game, they were the last honest men, and women. But what kind of crazy fucked up world do we live in where musicians, if you can even call them that, revel in playing by the man’s rules, selling out to the warmongering corporations, doing whatever their handlers want, whatever brings in the bucks. And you wonder why nobody cares. Why people laugh at music.

Oh, don’t tell me about your white rock and rollers. Everybody from the jam bands to Wilco. They’re not rock stars. The only rock stars left are in the COUNTRY WORLD!

Not that hard to believe if you look at history. Who does Garth always cite as an influence? KISS! And if you’ve ever seen the Oklahoman’s show, you know it’s closer to rock and roll than the Strokes, the Killers, ANY flavor of the moment.

You see the country acts believe in playing, they believe in the myth. That music will make you a better person, that music will set you free. And their fans, they’re rabid, they BELIEVE! Kenny Chesney doesn’t only outgross the rappers, but EVERYBODY on the Pollstar chart. Mainstream media thinks he’s a joke, that he’s an also-ran in the 9/11 SoundScan battle. But when Fitty and Kanye are long gone, Kenny Chesney will still be hitting the boards, people will still be listening to his music.

One of the great things about watching female musicians for a stretch is they lose their sexuality. Oh, they’re still women, but they become three-dimensional. You’re no longer thinking about getting in bed with them, rather you respect them like the women you encounter in everyday society.

And the Dixie Chicks are regular people. Who’ve struggled to make it where they are. Who want not only stardom, but family. They want it all, just like you.

Rick Rubin evidences his reputation as an inspirer as opposed to a knob-twister, Mr. Vibe. The Maguire sisters don’t want him to take control, they don’t want to be pushed in the background. Natalie’s father comes in and plays in the studio.

You remember what entranced you. You wanted to hang out all day in the studio, you wanted to go on the bus. You wanted to eat pizza, you wanted to crack dumb jokes. That’s why you wanted to work in this business, you needed to be CLOSER!

But everything you adored has gone. Producers, even Clive Davis, have eviscerated all of the creativity on records. Or, the recordings are cut in bedrooms by people who will never become ubiquitous. All anybody can talk about is money. It’s enough to make you turn your back and walk away. If you’re not so busy making a fortune, raping and pillaging.

I thought the Chicks should have made an entreaty to country radio. But when you see these spineless pricks, not only the deejays, but the radio group OWNERS, you too want nothing to do with the format.

Yes, Simon made a mistake not taking AEG’s guarantee, ultimately leaving money on the table. But, he comes across pretty good here. He’s the MANAGER! They’re musicians. They’ve got to live their lives, get inspired and create! They can’t be fluent in facts and figures, they can’t plot strategy. That’s Simon’s role.

But I wished he hadn’t released "Shut Up & Sing" theatrically. It didn’t do boffo at the B.O. It grossed a grand total of $1,215,045. Split that in half, giving fifty percent to the exhibitor, and you end up with bupkes. A great film that no one saw.

Oh, there were DVD sales. But how many?

Thank god the flick is getting a latter-day life on cable, almost a year after its initial release. That’s the American way. Lounging on the couch, on the bed, flipping the channels. And, after watching the latest "Entourage", I stumbled upon "Shut Up & Sing" on Cinemax. And I couldn’t turn it off. Because wrapped up in this movie is everything that enthralled me to begin with, that I thought was gone.

Where did we go wrong? When Madonna sacrificed the music to the show? When Michael Jackson danced his way to superstardom? When how you looked became more important than how you played? When the labels made so much money that the execs thought THEY were the stars?

All I know is that era is over. It imploded. The Internet killed what was dead already.

Where we go from here, I’m not sure. MTV and radio say there’s a center. But that locus doesn’t exist. We’ve got a ton of villages, we’re living in a Tower Of Babble. Where everybody thinks his little scene is important, and those outside don’t give a shit.

The Dixie Chicks were not ready to make nice. And, watching this film, you’ll understand this. Sometimes you can’t do what’s expedient. Sometimes you’re too hurt. All you can rely on is your identity, your character, and your talent.

The white liberal world embraced "Not Ready To Make Nice". The act even got a Grammy Award. But most Americans weren’t even paying attention to that accolade. The Grammys mean no more than a VMA, and that has NEVER meant shit.

Oh, revel in your success for an evening. But when they start giving recognition from the public, when what people feel in their hearts makes the true difference, then awards will be meaningful.

But you can’t quantify art. All you know is how it makes you feel. How that one record can change your whole day, inspire you, soothe your wounds, make you desire another hit.

Nobody wants another hit of Britney. They don’t care about the American Idols, just check the grosses. They want something they can believe in. For one night they want to join the circus. They want to sit in that arena, thrusting their arm in the air, singing along at the top of their lungs, while the band is playing so loud they can’t hear themselves.

Radio is made up of creeps. Who are beholden to advertisers. Who’ve got no integrity whatsoever.

And, in da club, it’s all about sex. I like getting laid, but what does that have to do with music?

The last refuge, the last bastion, is live.

It’s not about production, it’s not about extravaganza, it’s about the MUSIC! The music is ENOUGH!

Everything we believed in is gone. The Stones charge a fortune to let you pretend that they’re still in their twenties, that they still matter. Not only is Tom Donahue dead, but so is Scott Muni. Mo Ostin was killed by Doug Morris.

But a spark remains. You can see it in "Shut Up & Sing".

It should have been a YouTube video. Episodic in nature. It should have been a TV show. Exhibition should have cast a wide instead of a narrow net.

You need to see this flick. It’s got nothing to do with the Chicks, but you. You’ve got to know that those values you once had, they’re the only ones that still count. And that some acts are still doing it right.

Natalie: Can we decide what kind of artists we want to be right now?

Simon: Sure.

Natalie: Can we be the Bruce Springsteen and the Bob Dylan, not that I’m comparing our music and ourselves to them…but, do we have to be on everything that they’ll let us be on? I just don’t care.

Simon: It’s what everyone is wrestling with, you are the biggest selling group in North America in the last eight years, no one has sold, combined, more records than you have.

Natalie: I don’t give a shit what Sony wants, we know what Sony wants, money. Yeah, we’ve always been a cash cow, they’re worried we’re not gonna be that.

This is a read-only blog. E-mail comments directly to Bob.