By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
What we will not spend a lot of time doing today is retelling the story of the Dixie Chicks, their rise from local kitsch-bluegrass babes to international country-music stars and Dairy Council spokesgals. In fact, we will discuss that for all of one sentence, which could be placed anywhere in the story but which we may as well put after this sentence just to get it out of the way. The Dixie Chicks began in 1989 when one fiddle-playing lass teamed with her banjo-strumming sister, joined two friends, and sang for money on a street corner in the West End of Dallas, played area clubs, put out three indie CDs, kicked out the ladies who weren't sisters, added Lloyd Maines' daughter, Natalie, as lead singer, and in that incarnation put out two CDs --Wide Open Spaces andFly, respectively -- that sold 15 fuckingmillion copies and has won the current trio multiple CMA and Grammy awards during the past...the past two...
Sorry, can't do it. Almost got through it. If you don't know their story, I can't believe you're reading this. If you must have some chronological background on the Chicks, go get last Sunday's Dallas Morning News and read the band's bio -- at least, I think that's what it was -- that ran on the front page of the Arts section, Page 1C.
What we will do instead is answer four questions that everyone wants to know about the Chicks. In answering these four questions, exactly six other topics of interest will be brought up by Emily Robison. Emily -- c'mon, she's from here, we can call her Emily -- was known as Emily Erwin when she lived in Dallas, way back when she caught Poison and Bon Jovi at Reunion Arena, back when she used to fax her algebra homework in from the road. She plays dobro (the flat guitar-thingy) and banjo. She's the tall one, currently a brunette, married to Charlie Robison, the Texas singer-songwriter...good Lord, am I going to have to explain all this? Emily was lucky enough to draw interview duty as the Chicks prepare to play two sold-out dates at Reunion Arena this week. (I suppose you want concert info too. Check at the end of the story. I've got to get this train moving.)
Herewith, the questions. They will be printed in bold, so you can find your place should you need to check out the sex sits before coming back and finishing the piece. The points of interest will be noted with links to endnotes.
1. Which is true: that the Dixie Chicks sold out for fame or that the Dallas Observer is staffed with bitter, clove-smoking musicologists who are contractually forbidden to praise anything that goes platinum?
Emily, needless to say, leans toward the latter. She expounds thus:
"When I saw my phoner list, I was a little bit aghast that we would give the Dallas Observer an interview based on what [a local music writer] has written about us," she says. "Just how mean-spirited and back-stabbing the Observer has been about us. I think more lately he's just gotten into...it hasn't been about real things. It's just been mean-spirited, horrible personal attacks. And to me, I think Dallas has usually been pretty good, but the Observer kinda eats their own, you know? God forbid someone out of Dallas make it big and leave the city limits. I feel like the Observer is kind of an underdog rag that says, If you do have some success, we're going to tear you down."
"As far as the selling-out thing: Every point in our career, before we even had a record deal, was a point of growth. We started out bluegrass and swing, and, to me, we were going on sort of a gimmick. Which was fine to start out. But you don't want to be cornered into not fulfilling yourself musically, and when we found Natalie, we felt like we found ourselves musically. You know, and if people don't agree with us, that's their opinion. But to say that we've sold out -- I'm more artistically fulfilled now than I've ever been. I listened to country growing up as well as bluegrass, so who's to say that one is more viable than the other?"
2. Do sisters Martie Seidel and Emily Robison remember the time about two months ago when, at approximately 2 a.m. on a weekend, a very drunk "writer," on a bet, tried to high-five them while they were minding their own biz and playing pool at the Lakewood Landing -- and, as sort of a follow-up within a question, do you accept that writer's apology?
Her answer is self-explanatory.
"You know what, I don't remember, because I was probably as drunk as you were. So no apologies needed."
3. Your action flew outta your tube top during one show on this tour. Have you, Emily Robison, figured out how to keep your clothes on when you're onstage?
Before answering this, she laughs, albeit kind of uncomfortably, because, let's face it, journalists are creepy, and I'm asking about her boobs; you'd be a little weirded out too, no matter how cordial things had been to that point. Her answer was straightforward, though. "It's one of those things where you can never know what's going to happen, and you'd better darn be sure you're wearing the right undergarments -- or else they're going to get more of a show than you bargain for."
4. [A series of very clichéd "fame" questions were asked, the upshot of which was, tell us the bad, tell us the good. They can be characterized in the following way]: About fame, what bad, what good?
"I think we're getting more comfortable with it," she says. "But it is amazing what people feel they have the right to tell you to your face when you're famous. If Charlie and I are out together, and say he's a big alternative country or Texas music fan, and he'll say, 'Oh, Charlie, I love you, I love you, I love your music, blahblahblah,' and then they'll turn to me. And I'm like, You don't have to say anything, you don't have to acknowledge me, that's fine. But they'll turn to me and say, 'But I'm not really into your kind of music.' Or vice versa. 'Oh, Emily, I love the Dixie Chicks,' then to Charlie, 'I don't listen to your kind of music.' Our neighbors, when we're in the yard working or something, they'll come up and say the most bizarre things. It's like, You don't have to lie to my face, but you also don't have to be so blatantly rude. They tell you that they don't like what you're wearing. And it's like, you want to turn around and say, 'Yeah, and you should lose 50 pounds,' but I'm not going to say that to them...The other side of that is that you get more adulation than you can ever handle in your entire life, so it balances out." 5
She then thinks for a bit while she tries to come up with the one thing about fame that is actually better than she thought it would be at this point. "The free stuff," she finally says. "Yes, I can finally afford things, and people just want to give them to me. Free meals. And the cosmetics. Everyone sends them to us." She laughs. "I have more toiletries than I could ever absorb in my skin."
Soon after this comment, she says thanks and goodbye, because she has several other interviews to do before getting ready for her show in Oklahoma City, which will closely resemble the shows the Dixie Chicks will perform in Dallas this week. Emily is from Dallas. Did you know that? 6
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1 I am an unapologetic Dixie Chicks fan; I dug Wide Open Spaces and adored Fly. So I kind of chuckled along with Emily Robison in a sycophantic, you-go-girl fashion when she ripped this paper. But, in fairness, I must point out that the critic Emily named -- rhymes with Flobert Jablonsky -- named Fly one of the best albums of 1999. As well, music critic Michael Corcoran has fabulously praised both albums in the pages of the Observer, calling Wide Open Spaces the best album of 1998 and saying that Fly's last cut, "Let Him Fly," is "one of the most gorgeous and touching pieces of music you'll hear all year." I believe Emily really meant to direct her criticism toward music editor Zac "easy target" Crain, who recently called lead singer Maines "fat" and last year suggested that the Chicks "[g]o ahead and start working up a set for Branson, ladies. You're gonna need it." Just to set the record straight.
2 The Chicks certainly shouldn't have a persecution complex, because almost every pub in the country says their blend of country with the traditional bluegrass instruments (fiddle, dobro, banjo) is a fusion that Nashville needed. (Trust me, I've read about 75 Chick stories in the past week -- and I thought I kissed ass.) Among their fans, it has been oft noted, is Sheryl Crow, who has played with the Chicks and who called the Martie-n-Emily-penned "You Were Mine" one of the best songs she'd ever heard."I think our goal has always been to be credible within our peer group, as well as selling records," Emily says. "That to me, to all of us actually, is even more important than selling records. So when you have someone we love as much as Sheryl Crow or Stevie Nicks, people who are themselves icons in music, you know there's a little bit of a star factor, but that's just really cool that they respect us as musical peers...I think about that when I go to bed at night. It's what keeps you going."
3 Two things: One, the high-five thing was a bet, and although I'm ashamed, I was forgiven. (See above.) Two, I think her husband, Texas singer-songwriter Charlie Robison, was there, and I am so shocked he didn't just whup up on our posse. In case you don't know his work, buy it. You probably heard "Barlight" off Life of the Party on the radio, which is a cool drankin' song, but that's not all he does. Check out the haunting "Indianola" or Emily's favorite off that album, "My Hometown."FYI: The ballad "Cowboy Take Me Away," off Fly, was co-written by Martie with Emily and Charlie in mind.
"Yeah, sometimes I do still cry when we play it," Emily says. "He just came out on the road this week. It brought back a lot of memories of the wedding. It's kind of an anthem for all of us. With Martie and Natalie going through their divorces, me finding my perfect person, it's one of those songs that says, Don't sell yourself short when it comes to finding your soulmate. It's kind of a love anthem for ourselves, really."
Charlie and Emily live in San Antonio -- "I enjoy the anonymity. No one gives a crap who you are there." -- and are building a house on his family ranch in Bandera, Texas. She says her sister may buy a place in Austin after the tour, but regardless, she doesn't see ever leaving Texas. In a few weeks, she and Charlie are going to buy each other a horse for their birthdays. In case you were wondering.
4 That was kind of cheap of me, really. Put a boob question in, like it was anything other than juvenile titillation. But, we teased it on the cover of the paper -- the real paper, not this Web thing -- so I kinda had to. If you're a hardcore fan and you want a little more info on the tour than undergarment accidents, here's a quote for you:"We really wanted to make sure that people were entertained from the moment they stepped into the arena. Visual things, the 'halftime show' between us and the opener. Having it be an entertainment package. Because we came from the intimate sort of venues -- that's where we came up through the ranks -- we wanted to somehow maintain that intimacy with the audience. Now, we kind of have more of a theatrical show, in terms of lighting and staging, than a typical show. We want it to feel more like a theater than an arena, so the people from the front row to the back row get an intimate feeling...It's hard to reach the back row. It really is."
Now, here I could give away some things that will probably happen at the show, since I've read the reviews from around the country, because, well, let's just say such a description would fit here. But I won't. Suffice to say the consensus is as follows: "cool show."
5 You know what, it does not balance out. Most of us don't find fame and fortune, but if you do, you're never a schlep again. Even if you go broke, like Hammer or Peter Frampton, you still can go on VH1 and start selling albums again. If you're the Chicks, what happens is this:Natalie Maines gets married, and to celebrate, they all head to Vegas to gamble. And the homegirls who for years saw only red when they bet black can't help but hit.
"I won, like $325 that time," Emily says. "I think we all collectively won over $2,000 that night. It was just a good night, you know? Good vibes going on. A lotta good juju going on that night."
6 The Dixie Chicks play August 10 and 11 at Reunion Arena, which is in Dallas, where Emily and Martie grew up. There are some other stories I'd like to tell you, about Emily being interviewed by Guitar Player and the Chicks giving away that pink RV they used to travel in on a radio promotion, only to see the sumbitch show up on eBay and folks bidding $40K on it, but we're outta room. You should also know that both shows are sold out.