On March 10, 2003, during a concert by the Dixie Chicks (of which she is a member), Natalie Maines made a choice to express her feelings about military conflict in Iraq that demonstrates the value of free speech and took a tremendous amount of courage. To a crowd in London, she said:
Just so you know, we're ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas.
Natalie's Early Life
Natalie Maines was born on October 14, 1974 in Lubbock, Texas. Her childhood was filled with music, as her father Lloyd Maines is known as one of the greatest steel pedal guitar players alive. In her early teenage years, her brothers formed a group called the Maines Brothers Band, which became quite popular in the south during the 1980s.
Natalie was classically trained on guitar and earned a music scholarship to the University of California, Berkeley, which started in 1993. While there, she became involved in a burgeoning alt.country and folk movement there, and through this she came in contact with the music of the Dixie Chicks, who were widely distributed in the underground country movement. In 1995, the Chicks (who at the time consisted of only two members) visited the campus for a concert and met Natalie, and by the end of the year, Natalie joined the group.
Shortly after Natalie joined the band, the group was signed to Sony Records, providing them the opportunity to present their music on a worldwide level. Their first two major label albums, Wide Open Spaces in 1998 and Fly in 1999 featured a mix of country, bluegrass, and pop musical stylings, but both were released to wide critical acclaim, selling more than 10 million copies each.
In 2002, the group's third major label album, Home, was released. Even though the group changed direction and focused on a more bluegrass-oriented sound, the album was nominated for Album of the Year at the Grammy awards and spawned three #1 singles. At the moment at which the third single, Travelin' Soldier, topped the charts, Natalie made her fateful statement.
Why Natalie Is One Of My Heroes
As mentioned above, on March 10, 2003, Natalie made a very public comment opposing the war in Iraq. At first, this may not seem to be that unusual, as many "famous" people have made comments decrying the 2003 conflict between Iraq and the United States, including Susan Sarandon and Martin Sheen. Yet, there is one major key difference between those and Natalie Maines that makes Natalie's comment seem much more courageous, and that difference requires an analysis of her fan base.
The average fan of the Dixie Chicks, and thus of Natalie Maines, is from a blue collar rural background. These individuals are generally extremely patriotic; one needs only to visit a small town and notice the relative proportion of American and Confederate flags to witness this. Thus, the slice of America that supports the music of the Dixie Chicks generally also supports the military conflict in Iraq.
Her fanbase responded as you might expect: CD burning parties were held in which albums by the Dixie Chicks were burnt and radio stations removed the Chicks from their playlists at the request of listeners. The impact was immediate, causing their single Travelin' Soldier to fall immediately from #1 to #3 in response to a massive cut in airplay.
On the other hand, supporters of individuals such as Susan Sarandon have a more diverse background that is much less easy to describe. These individuals are more likely to find people among their supporters that strongly agree with their views.
By standing up and expressing her views on the war, Natalie was knowingly opposing the viewpoint of most of her fanbase, and yet she did it anyway. To choose to express your mind even in the face of rejection of most of your supporters takes a great deal of courage, the type of courage showed by people like Winston Churchill.
And it is because of this great public display of courage that I now consider Natalie Maines one of my heroes. Regardless of whether or not I agree with her viewpoint, I truly admire her courage and strength.