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Butthurt, Concerts, and Free Speech


Natalie Maines.

Toby Keith

Kid Rock.

Ted Nugent.

Frank Turner

Roger Waters

What do the above have in common?

During a Dixie Chicks concert in London in 2003 on the eve of the war in Afghanistan, Natalie Maines said “Just so you know, we’re on the good side with y’all. We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.”  When news of her comment got back to the United States, all hell broke loose.  The Dixe Chicks lost fans.  Bush supporters heaped scorn on Maines.  Country music radio stations refused to play Dixie Chicks songs.  People burned their CDs.  And the hate mail came rolling in.  In response to the backlash, they wrote the song “I’m Not Ready to Make Nice,” in which Maines sings “It’s a sad sad story when a mother would teach her daughter that she ought to hate a perfect stranger and how in the world could the words that I said send somebody so over the edge that they’d write me a letter saying that I better shut up and sing or my life will be over.”

Toby Keith wrote a song called “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue” which was directed at the war in Afghanistan.  ABC invited him to perform it during a 2002 special, but when ABC news anchor Peter Jennings asked him to either make the lyrics a bit softer or sing something else, he decided to not perform at all.  Maines publicly stated that Keith’s song was “ignorant, and it makes country music sound ignorant.” Keith fired back by questioning Maines’s song-writing ability, belittling Maines’ songwriting skills, and by displaying a backdrop at his concerts showing a photoshopped picture of her with Saddam Hussein. Most recently, Keith played at Donald Trump’s inauguration.  In support his decision to do so, he received texts telling him he was brave for performing and that he never considered backing out in spite of the backlash because “In the end, it just makes you stronger.”

Kid Rock and Ted Nugent have been extremely outspoken about their passionate dislike of Barack Obama and their support for Donald Trump. Kid Rock has a line of pro-Trump merchandise.  In a recent meeting at the White House, Trump, Nugent, Kid Rock, and Sarah Palin were photographed together in the Oval Office and in front of a portrait of Hillary Clinton.  The backlash against their views has been rabid.

Frank Turner wrote a protest song following the 2016 election and debuted it in Maryland in January 2017.  “The Sand in the Gears” advocates activism in face of recent events in the US and the UK.  “We can’t just spend the next four years in a safe space.  I’m going to spend the next four years getting outraged.  So every single day let’s find a brand new way to let the motherfuckers know that we can’t be swept away.  I’m going to spend the next four years on the barricades.”  It became the opening song for that leg of his tour and it didn’t take long to make people angry. People in the crowd booed.  “Why can’t you just do a show and leave the politics out of it” became a constant question on his twitter feed. That’s a rather funny question to ask someone who also has the song “Thatcher Fucked the Kids” under his belt.

And now there’s Roger Waters who kicked off his “Us and Them” tour in Kansas last week.  I saw it in Louisville this past Sunday night.  The song “Money” is played with a video showing Trump’s properties and Trump posing with beauty contestants in the Miss Universe pageant.  “Pigs” was sung while a giant pig drone emblazoned with Trump’s visage circled the arena and a video showed unflattering images of Trump and some of the more outrageous things that Trump has said, ending with the quote “Trump is a dick” in Spanish.  In both Kansas City and Louisville, pro-Trump concertgoers angrily huffed their way out of the show, some of them shooting the middle finger towards the stage.  And the “why can’t you leave your politics out of your show” question reared its head again.

So what do these people have in common?  They are artists who have a platform on which they can make their views known, they’ve used it, and they’ve been criticized for it by fans who don’t agree with them.  And let’s be honest.  The particular views held by these artists and other performers who have landed in the hot seat for daring to air their political views aren’t some dirty little secrect that they just blurted out one day while on stage.  Kid Rock and Nugent have made no bones of their hatred of Obama and support for Trump.  Natalie Maines didn’t like George Bush.  Frank Turner has spoken out in the past about politics and social justice issues.  And as James Foser tweeted about Roger Waters:  “Weird. He always seemed so pro-fascism — The World’s Dimmest Roger Waters Fans.”  And yet people who don’t agree with their views go to their shows and get butthurt when they express them.  Well here’s the deal.  At least for the moment, we are a nation that endorses the right to free speech.  I can talk about how I think Donald Trump is unfit to lead this country.  Someone else can talk about how Donald Trump can “make America great again.”  Natalie Maines, Toby Keith, Kid Rock, Ted Nugent, Frank Turner, and Roger Waters can stand on a stage and talk and sing about how they feel about war and world leaders, social justice, and other hot-button topics.  They don’t leave their right to express their opinions on politics, religion, governmental mis-steps, Brexit, etc. etc. etc. behind on the bus before they take the stage.  Sometimes people forget that music is an art form and art is inherently subversive.  It gets in our face and questions what we believe and challenges us to change or at least moderate or revise our views.  If it doesn’t, it’s not doing its job.  Period.

The Urban Dictionary defines “butthurt” as “an inappropriately strong negative emotional response from a perceived personal insult.”  Personally, I don’t like Ted Nugent, Kid Rock, and Toby Keith.  I don’t like their views.  I’m not a country music fan, so I don’t go to their shows.  And even if I were to go to one of their shows without knowing what their views are, who am I to get all butthurt because they endorse eating pizza with pineappple, putting milk in the tea cup before pouring the tea in, Pepsi over Coke, and Donald Trump.  Who am I to tell them not to bring their politics to the show?  Who are you to tell them not to bring their politics to the show?  Who are we to seek to extinguish an artist’s subversiveness because we disagree with it?

Roger Waters’s “Us and Them” tour is about the “Us versus Them” mindset that exists in our world and is tearing everyone and everything apart. And yes, the show IS political.  Here is a news flash:  Roger Waters has been a political animal for a long time and Trump is fair game.  The show started with two giant hands trying to reach out for each other but instead of coming together they collided and broke into a million pieces.  Had the people who left stayed, at the end of the show they would see the same two giant hands trying to reach out again and this time succeeding in coming together. Truth be told, those who didn’t walk out needed to see that as well.  Sometimes we have to swallow bitter medicine before we’re willing to extend a hand.  Sometimes we need to try see the “better angels of our nature” in other people just as hard as we try to seem them in ourselves; sometimes we succeed, more often we fail.  But telling someone to leave their views at the stage door and shut up and sing?  No.  If that’s what you want, keep your money, stay home and let the rest of us enjoy the show.