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shut up and sing
dixie chicks: shut up and sing interview
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Whistlin’ Dixie.

Thank god for the conservative fundamentalists: without them, American megastars The Dixie Chicks may have remained in the safe box of heartland country music, beloved mascots of their native Lone Star state, gussied up in Little House On The Prairie-chic. Instead, the right wing’s hysterical, hyperbolic reaction to Chicks lead singer Natalie Maines’ pre-Iraq War missive, “We’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas”, (delivered at notorious radical hothouse Shepherd’s Bush Empire, no less) shocked the Chicks into hatching a defiant career-changing stand.

Vilified with album-burning, commercial boycotts and death threats – was this 30s Berlin or modern-day America? - the Chicks came out fighting, as captured in documentary Shut Up And Sing (a line from no-surrender anthem Not Ready To Make Nice) by Oscar-winning filmmaker Barbara Kopple and Cecilia Peck. Witnessing the band go from the best-selling female act ever to pariahs in their own backyard was some journey.

“There was never a moment when they said cut or stop, or you can’t film anymore,” notes Peck, the striking daughter of Hollywood legend Gregory. “They wanted it to reflect the truth and the enormity of what had happened to them, so they were very brave about being vulnerable and being themselves in a very uncensored way.”

Peck and Kopple, whose renowned documentaries - Harlan County, USA and American Dream - root for the underdog, clearly sympathise with the three Chicks, though their challenge was in trying to present the film as objectively as possible.

“You go in without an agenda and you just stay open to whatever happens,” she says. “Our only objective was to follow them through this journey. We didn’t try to impose any point of view on it. I just think they’re three human beings and you can identify with them. What they did was keep making music, keep having children and keep standing up for what they believed in.”

If it takes being labelled “Saddam’s Angels” to get legendary weird-beard rock producer Rick Rubin onboard for the new album (assisted by Sheryl Crow, Crowded House’s Neil Finn and Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith), maybe it was ultimately worth it. “It was amazing to watch them accept the consequences of what they had said and refuse to back down,” marvels Peck. “It freed them to explore.” From Dixie Chicks to rock chicks, with nary a pinafore in sight. Thanks, George W.

Leigh Singer 28 June 07
Dixie Chicks: Shut Up And Sing, on selected release 29 June 07.
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