The Second Coming of the Chicks
Think back to your first music memories. The songs you first heard in the backseat of your parents' car or blasting in the kitchen. Recall watching your mom's excited expression in the rearview mirror or the way your dad would sift through vinyl. Think about the music videos and the chord progressions and the dorky dance moves reserved for carpeted living rooms. Remember the rhythmic drumming on steering wheels and remember when you first learned the words, whether or not you knew what they all meant. Those songs––those memories––were chosen for you. Well, maybe not for you specifically, but they were the songs that just happened to be played when you were around. You had no real say in the matter; because you were little and you were always under someone's watchful eye, you didn't yet pick the music. But odds are you still listen to it sometimes. Maybe because it's nostalgic, or maybe it's because you think it's good. Either way, it was the first sonic mark made on you, and whether you like it or not that's part of who you are now.
I think maybe music played a larger role in my upbringing than in other kids'. I of course have some memories of my parents watching TV, but for the most part I remember being raised on music as the background noise of choice. My parents met at a live music bar, and going to shows and listening to tunes was predominantly what they had in common. And, like, no offense if your parents raised you on Journey or Bon Jovi or synth-y top 40, but mine have always had cool, eclectic taste in music. I've said it my whole life: If my mom or dad thought a song was good, that meant it probably objectively was. And I'm sure every kid says that about their parents, but I really, really mean it. The downside of this is before I started to build out my own music library, I didn't have much of a clue when it came to what other kids were listening to. Of course now I know Christina and Nelly's hits and have the basic "Bye, Bye, Bye" choreography down, but at the height of their popularity I was somewhat aware at best. When all the other little girls in my class where begging their parents for that poster of Britney Spears (you know the one, the "Oops...I Did It Again!" album cover with the gold dangly things framing her face), I was begging mine to put me in violin lessons so I could be like Martie from the Dixie Chicks.
Okay, Lauren, way to bury the lede. I think that's reason #57346 why you're not actively using your journalism degree. That and the fact that you can't stay on-topic. Okay! ANYWAY! The Dixie Chicks are such a huge part of my first musical memories. I couldn't have been older than four or five when "Cowboy, Take Me Away" was first climbing the charts, and when I tell you I knew every word to that song, I mean I would sing it with my entire chest. I'll never forget the first time my dad told me to stop playing with my Barbie dolls for just a second so I could watch the music video, and all three-and-a-half feet of me felt overwhelmed with euphoria. Y'know that feeling when you first hear a song or watch a movie or consume some piece of media that seems to fit perfectly into your identity, as if it always should've been there? It was that, but because I was five I couldn't properly articulate the feeling. I just knew I saw three self-assured, talented women and I wanted to be just like them.
I didn't know much about the accolades or alignments of The Dixie Chicks as I got older, I just knew I liked their music. I knew my dad played their CDs in the car, and on Sunday mornings the CMT Countdown would sometimes play their music videos. I knew I liked how strong Natalie Maines's voice sounded, and I liked how all the boys in their band stayed a respectful distance behind the three Chicks when they performed on stage. I didn't know what it meant to be anti-war, and I didn't know what it meant to disagree with the president. I certainly didn't know why The Dixie Chicks weren't making music for a few years, and when they finally resurfaced I didn't know what "Not Ready To Make Nice" was about, but God they sounded angry. I was unaware of the Grammys and the controversies and the all-but-official divorce from country music, but the whole time I was subconsciously taking it in. And as I got older, I started putting the songs on myself. Sure, I enjoyed when my dad played the CDs in the garage, and I was over the moon when he took me to their concert. But there's someone wholly different about choosing the records for yourself. As my taste in music became influenced by The Disney Channel and the songs my friends liked, it meant more and more when the track wheel on my iPod mini scrolled over to The Dixie Chicks' discography. And when I listened to them in a car I was driving. And when I sang the songs in my head while mentally walking memory lane in the office.
I think it's improbable––impossible, even––to say the woman I am now isn't influenced by The Dixie Chicks. I know it's maybe too simple to pick a single strand of our media consumption and label it as The Reason We Are This Way, but I think it's also too dismissive to ignore the impact their songs had on me. You can't let a little girl listen to the lyrics, "She needs wide open spaces, room to make the big mistakes," and then try to tell her she can't do anything she sets her mind to. It's unimaginable to let a young woman hear, "I'm not ready to make nice, I'm not ready to back down, I'm still mad as hell and I don't have time to go 'round and 'round and 'round," and then attempt to shut her up. I attribute so many things and so many role models to the person I am now (whether you like her or not!), but to ignore The Dixie Chicks would be to ignore some of the first feminist messaging I ever received.
So now here we are in 2020. My taste in music sits on the foundation of what my parents listen to, sure, but it's also entirely its own thing. I have albums memorized that my mom and dad have never heard one note of. Lyrics they wouldn't recognize have the ability to bring me to tears. I no longer am at the mercy of listening to only what the people responsible for me want to hear, which makes what I choose to play even more special. Because it's mine. And the fact that The Dixie Chicks have chosen to resurface now, with lyrics even more forwardly feminist than before, means the world to me. To return to the industry with a single, and soon-to-come album, titled "Gaslighter" speaks volumes. It's almost as if they gave little me their early 2000s lyrics as practice, so grown-up me could really appreciate the lyric, "You're sorry, but where's my apology?"
I know I've all but said they had a hand in raising me, and today with the release of their newest single, "Julianna Calm Down," I'm ready to lock that sentiment down. I don't think I've been shy about the fact that this past year has been challenging, and for one of my favorite formative artists to pen the words "I guess this is the time to remind you sometimes what's going through your head is just a temporary situation, and light will soon be shed. Just put on your best shoes, and strut the fuck around like you've got nothing to lose. Show off your best moves, and do it with a smile so that no one knows it's put on,"...Let's just say I feel seen. And I know we blame our parents and our upbringing for a lot sometimes; we pin our worst qualities and our traumas to people and situations out of our control. But I think there's also a lot of beauty in the madness and a few good songs and memories we can point out on the map that got us to where we are. So, like...thanks, Mom and Dad for playing the right songs in the car. Couldn't have done it without you.