Wednesday, September 17, 2003


In my earlier mentions of 9/11-related music, I unwisely made no reference to John Adams' proms premiere. This significant work received mixed notices outside the homeland. Many thought that its emotion fell short of genuine artistic expressivism.

One such was Andrew Clements: "One of the season's biggest disappointments [was] John Adams's ... memorial 'On the Transmigration of Souls', [which] certainly took the prize for queasy questionability, and only just stayed on the right side of mawkishness; it was the kind of tribute piece, heartfelt no doubt, that really should have stayed in New York."

I think this may prove a rather unyielding judgement. There is more about the project here.

Further afield (indeed right outside NFE's usual orbit) there's a bit of me that feels, in spite of the musical evidence, that everyone should go out and purchase at least one Dixie Chicks album – and then send G.W. a cheery postcard to tell him you've done so. The country stars endured vitriolic abuse in the US after Natalie Maines said she and her bandmates were ashamed that President George W. Bush was from Texas like them. She made the off-the-cuff remark in London shortly before the Iraq war. A semi-climbdown was to be expected, but at least the free speech principles haven't been entirely forsaken -- unlike the message board on the band's site, which rapidly filled up with obscenities and had to be scrapped.

This spat views very differently from inside and outside the US, of course. In Britain we take Blair-baiting in our stride. But as film-maker Michael Moore observed in his even more tactless Oscar speech: "Shame on you, Mr Bush, shame on you. And any time you got the Pope and the Dixie Chicks against you, your time is up ." The Chicks went on to offer £1million dollars to the US Red Cross from their 'Star Spangled Banner' cover, as a gesture of goodwill. Incredibly, it was turned down after alleged pressure from the White House. Write that check for UNHCR now, gals.

Nor is this just a squabble in the political gutter. There are wider musical ramifications, too. It is reported that major record labels are now introducing clauses into artists’ contracts that cover 'inappropriate' comments or incidents by them. This so-called 'Dixie Chicks clause' would make them financially responsible for downward CD sales spikes that might stem from 'negative' remarks or acts by the artists.

But the Dixies are not bowing low. Nigel Williamson wrote of a recent Memphis concert: "The show - which is prefaced by Elvis Costello's version of '(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding' -- is well received, even when a song called 'Truth No 2' is accompanied by a video featuring Martin Luther King, Gandhi and Malcolm X and footage of civil-rights protests. The film also shows archive footage of Nazi book burning before it ends with shots of the destruction of Dixie Chicks records and the on-screen messages: 'Seek The Truth' and 'Tolerance'. Throughout the show, Maines sports a 'Dare To Be Free' T-shirt, and it is lost on no one that we're in the city where King was assassinated."

The Dixie's have just finished a fairly low-key four date UK tour. They have been received respectfully, if not rapturously --by US citizens abroad, too. One in the eye for lumpen leaders, who talk about 'freedom of speech' and then bend all their best efforts to surressing it. "If you can't question your government then you are just mindless followers." -- Emily Robison.

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