Music, money and war: Dixie Chicks vs. Clear Channel

Perhaps since the dawn of time, music has been a means of political expression. A recent song, “Traveling Soldier,” by one of country music’s newest and biggest stars, the Dixie Chicks, continues that tradition. The song recounts the fear of a young man sent to fight in Vietnam and the pain of a young woman who remembers him after he is added to “the list of local Vietnam dead.’’

The Dixie Chicks began their career over a decade ago as a trio of bluegrass street performers; their origins and style are as natural as their roots. Their rise to fame, including three recent Grammy awards, hasn’t been like most pop music success stories; corporate connections, advertising campaigns, and perfect figures were not the keys to their record sales. Rather, their own well-written music that expresses their personal takes on the trials, tribulations, and desires of people just like us has taken this group to the top.

Past songs from the Chicks have gone beyond the topic of love, to tackle issues like abuse and independence, and now they have taken on WAR.

But like the rest of us poor and peace-loving people, the Chicks are under attack for their principled honesty. When lead singer Natalie Maines said to a packed and roaring crowd at a London concert, “Just so you know, we’re ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas,” it was fated that the Chicks would be prime targets for a pro-war assault.

Their subsequent clarifications of their anti-war feelings have landed them in even deeper trouble with the mammoth conglomerate Clear Channel, which controls no less than 60 percent of the nation’s rock music airwaves. The Clear Channel director for two Jacksonville stations said in a press release, “Out of respect for our troops, our city, and our listeners, [we] have taken the Dixie Chicks off our playlists.”

Clear Channel, which is also under congressional investigation spearheaded by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) because of its growing monopoly and the strong-arm tactics that took it to the top, is also a large promoter of war fanaticism around the country. Its stations all over the country have been sponsoring large “patriotic rallies.” According to a Feb. 27 press release the “Rallies for America” are the brainchild of Glenn Beck, a nationally syndicated Clear Channel talk show host, who said, “I want them [the troops] to hear from us, whether we agree or disagree with war, we stand behind them . . . These rallies are intended as a venue for reasonable, thoughtful and prayerful people who want the opportunity to express their support for our troops.”

Yes, it is not surprising that the company, which owns the widely syndicated Rush Limbaugh Show, would also use its control of the media to promote war and squash dissent. A recent Chicago Tribune (3/19) story brought to light the conflicts of interest that Clear Channel has in sponsoring what it calls “patriotic rallies” while censoring the music played on its stations.

But before we think that the blacklisting of the Dixie Chicks at some Clear Channel stations nationwide is the exception rather than the rule of business at Clear Channel, a little investigation will put all doubts to rest. Here is just a sample of the most well-known artist who have had at least one song pulled, unofficially, from Clear Channel nationally due to “questionable content”: The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Wings, Jimi Hendrix, John Mellencamp, Billy Joel, Elvis, Elton John, Van Halen, Talking Heads, Herman’s Hermits, Bobby Darin, Buddy Holly, Don McLean, Cat Stevens, Simon and Garfunkel, Santana, Jerry Lee Lewis, Peter Paul and Mary, Frank Sinatra, The Gap Band, Louis Armstrong, Neil Diamond, Lenny Kravitz, Bruce Springsteen, Phil Collins, Ricky Nelson, and James Taylor.

Please call your local Clear Channel station to tell them to stand up to their corporate executives by stopping the censorship.

The author can be reached at bkishner@pww.org