Box Full of Letters from Issue #46
The politics of celebrity:
An Earle fan’s dual views
I picked up your most recent issue just a few days after attending Steve Earle’s Orlando concert earlier this month, and felt compelled to write. Like many others, I abhor many of Earle’s political positions, though I certainly respect his right to state his opinions and further his causes via the platform his celebrity status provides.
On the other hand, I have no problem with those among us who would boycott or otherwise reject his art and the art of others who choose to advocate positions diametrically opposed to their own. After all, it is the notoriety of Earle’s celebrity status which brings the (incorrect) perception that his opinion on a particular position is superior to the opinion of any person who does not enjoy a similar status in our society. Therefore, not supporting him as an artist at least in theory may diminish his status as a celebrity, and in the eyes of his detractors, the influence of his opinions. In my opinion, the right of a consumer to reject an artist and his work based on what an artist stands for is as valid an exercise of the First Amendment as is the artist’s right to use his celebrity pulpit to further the positions he espouses.
Having said that, I will also state my firm belief that Earle is one of the absolute finest songwriters of our generation. While I may not agree with the political ramifications of many of his songs, I sure respect and appreciate the fact that he is one of the few working artists out there whose songs stand for something (whether I may agree with that “something” in a particular song or not); and the fact that he is not, like the vast majority of his so-called peers, recycling the same insubstantial material over and over again. To me, Earle’s music matters whether I agree with his political positions or not, and as long as I continue to believe that his music matters, I will continue to support him as an artist.
And the concert itself? I think Steve may have noticed that I did not necessarily agree with his politics, as he appeared to glare directly at me in my second-row-center seat for much of the night. I glared back just as intently. A most excellent time was had by all.
— Jamey Rodgers
To live and die with Dixie
I suppose the vilification of the Dixie Chicks ought not to surprise anyone. The boycott was an obvious enough power play — a predictable if extreme demonstration of what can happen to high-profile people who step out of line in a plutocracy.
Still, the fact that Natalie Maines’ remarks even rose to the level of controversy certainly says a lot about the rules of discourse in this country, and underscores an interesting double standard within the country music industry itself. Jingoists like Toby Keith and Travis Tritt offend me every time they open their mouths, but nobody’s demanding that they apologize for their politics. For all his outlaw posturing, Tritt in particular seems overly given to sycophancy, never missing an opportunity to kiss George W. Bush’s ass.
But God forbid we let those radical and suddenly overexposed Dixie Chicks question authority. What kind of message would that send to our troops overseas, to say nothing of the rank and file here at home? Those treasonous hussies had to be punished for forgetting their place in an industry that is all about playing it safe.
Mainstream country music can indulge in glitz and soap opera and save the flag to its heart’s content, but heaven help it if it says anything subversive. If the commissars of corporate America can’t prohibit free speech, they can sure as hell discourage it, particularly with catchy propaganda like Darryl Worley’s “Have You Forgotten” to help stir the blood of blind patriots everywhere. Is that democracy? Some might say so. Others might call it indoctrination.
I don’t own any Dixie Chicks CDs, but like Grant Alden, I intend to go out and buy a copy of their Home album the next chance I get. Small thing or not, it just seems like the right thing to do.
— Shawn Cote
Fort Fairfield, Maine
Letters on letters:
From a “stiff Englisher”
I may be a stiff Englisher and quite out of touch with many things Stateside, but what in hells-teeth was Michael Johnson of Champaign, Illinois, thinking of when he said Hollywood is “left-leaning”? [Box Full Of Letters, ND #45, May-June 2003.] And what does he know about socialism that the rest of us don’t? Talk about one-dimensional man! Hey Michael, if I wanna learn about something I’ll go read a book written by someone half-intelligent rather than take note of your moronic comments, thank you very much!
— Julian Brown
More letters on letters:
A voice of support
Michael Johnson’s letter printed in issue #45 sums up my position well.
ND is an excellent magazine, and I’d hate to let my subscription lapse over your wearing your politics on your sleeve.
The Dixie Chicks have the right to say anything they want about anything, but they should realize expressing unpopular opinions has a price.
— Gary Smith
O cracked, here thou art
I enjoy your magazine, but I have to say the review of O Cracker, Where Art Thou? by Mike Logan [ND #45, May-June 2003] was one of the most poorly written reviews I have ever read of a recording, gallery exhibit, concert, book — anything. I strongly believe each person is entitled to his or her own opinion, and I strongly advocate open discussions about personal reactions to art. There are no yes or no answers when it comes to quality, which is why critics even exist in the first place. However, there is also an art to criticism.
It is one thing to not care for an album and provide constructive criticism about why one does not care for it. I personally appreciate and welcome that criticism even when I don’t agree with the critic. However, it is another thing altogether to write a rather unsubstantial series of paragraphs that are more like a critic’s personal manifesto than a review.
Perhaps Mr. Logan can collect his personal digressions and write a column, dissertation or angry letters to the editor of any magazine, newspaper or publishing house that offends his strongly defined and developed sense of aesthetics. Better yet, get a blog.
— Emily Windle
Grass Valley, California
[Ed. note: We received a similar letter from Ben Melendez of Cincinnati, Ohio. Apologies, but we must confess that we like Mike.]