And I Kinda Like It

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And I Kinda Like It

Taking the Long Way

Not Ready to Make Nice, by Dan Wilson, Natalie Maines, Emily Robison, and Marlie McGuire, performed by the Dixie Chicks 2006, Encountered 2006

Buy it here | Watch here and here | Lyrics here | Sheet music here

“And I kinda like it.”

Those who remember the pop, country, and political scene in 2003 to 2006 will recognize that tag: the affirmation by the Dixie Chicks (Natalie Maines, Emily Robison, and Marlie McGuire) of Maines’ costly but liberating decision in 2003 to state her views on the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. At Shepherd’s Bush Empire Theatre in London, Maines commented: “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.”

The House Musicians Rise Up

At that time, the Dixie Chicks were about the most popular country music act. Their resultant loss of status in that community was instantaneous. Their then-current hit Landslide fell from No. 10 down to 43 on the Billboard Hot 100 in a single week. Country is and does a lot of things, but no one is likely to dispute that among them, it serves as the house music of the religious, socially, and politically conservative among us. For these audiences, country music fits into a constellation with fundamentalist faith, football, and the military – and all of them were aligned behind George W. Bush’s war in Afghanistan and incipient war in Iraq in 2003. The reaction to the Chicks’ apostasy against this cultural combine was fierce: death threats, denunciations, a demonstration where their CDs were destroyed. They rethought their identity, stated they no longer considered themselves part of the country music community, and rebranded themselves as rock-n-rollers.

Three years later, the Chicks came out with a powerful meditation on what they had done, what the reaction had been, and how they felt about it. It is an anthem of anger at the anger directed at them, acceptance of the consequences for them, and affirmation of the course they had set out on: they kinda liked it. And if you go to the Chicks’ website today, you’ll see their “Causes” listed, and you’ll see that they have gone right on with the liberal course: Planned Parenthood, democracy, LGBT rights.

As the Chicks proclaimed, it is always liberating to shake off constraints and speak one’s truth.

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
It’s too late to make it right
I probably wouldn’t if I could
‘Cause I’m mad as hell
Can’t bring myself to do what it is
You think I should

This song spoke to me about as directly as any chronicled in these pieces. This blog is rooted in that very moment. From sometime in the previous decade, I’d been part of the Lawyers’ Editorial Advisory Board of the Maryland Daily Record, a business and legal newspaper. This was a group of fifteen or so lawyers who combined to write editorials in that paper on matters of legal interest, sometimes intramural within the Maryland community, sometimes broader. I served as principal author of a number of the pieces, and was finding it an increasingly frustrating task. I wanted to say some things that were startling and direct, and collegial authorship was making that close to impossible. There were always colleagues who disagreed with my point, or who counseled mushy compromises. Some wanted us to focus on municipal boosterism, while I wanted to talk about the big political issues, public policy, constitutional legal issues, and things that affected me as a practicing member of the profession.

But it went beyond subject matter. I was spoiling for fights that not everyone on that board wanted to have. And as long as I had to work with the board, I wasn’t going to have most of them.

The Column Begins

Thank goodness for our handler from the newspaper, Barbara Grzincic. One day in 2003 after a meeting of the board she pulled me aside and offered me a monthly column of my own. I think I said yes on the spot. You can see the entire result in this blog starting here, as I have taken all republished all my columns in the Big Picture section of the blog.

Of course it took me a little while to find my feet. One of my early pieces, for example, I later had to retract: I had addressed the Intelligent Design debate with insufficient facts. I also focused more than I should have on being a lawyer. My pieces were too long – something a colleague eventually poked fun at when we were presenting a continuing professional education seminar together, and he assured the audience that in my segment, which came next, I would speak for several hours.

But I knew I had something to present, and a way of presenting it that I had to work out.

I started hitting my stride when I started to write about Afghanistan, Iraq, surveillance, all the lies pouring out of Bush’s White House, and the history of presidential constitutional violations and dishonesty that had enabled the current abuses. The core material was some research I had done nearly twenty years earlier, for a talk to the League of Women Voters, during the Reagan years. Bush, I now saw, was a logical extension of the Nixon and Reagan lies and the Johnson and Reagan overreach. That earlier work gave me a grounding, and my anger at the way things were going pushed me forward. Eventually, my War Powers, War Lies series within my column came to twenty-five columns, a small book.

Over the two years I was producing my War Powers series, I started having fans. People I met on the street, some of them strangers, mentioned that they read me regularly. I also acquired a few detractors, most of them being, however, opposed to what I said, not to me personally. I’m pleased to say that I never had anyone challenge my facts, however. I tried really hard to get them right.

Of course my little brush with local fame had at least one drawback. I knew from the start that any ambitions I had ever had to become a judge would vanish because of my outspokenness. The people who choose judges generally shy away from those with controversial viewpoints, particularly controversial ones from my end of the political spectrum. Luckily, I had never been prey to that ambition in anything but the vaguest daydream.

The ambition I had had, I’d already achieved: I was a name partner in a good law firm. Better yet, as I quickly realized, neither my clientele nor my partnership was going to put any appreciable crimp in my ability to be outspoken. I did not alienate any clients that I was aware of by what I said, nor did I confront what lawyers call issues conflicts (where a position you take in some public context is inconsistent with an argument you’re making on a client’s behalf), forcing me to silence myself or even moderate my views.

One’s Own Voice

The greatest gift, though, was finding my voice. I was expressing my distrust of the powers that were, my awareness of the evils wrought by the powers that had been, and my bitterness about the whole situation, with all the honesty and erudition at my disposal. I had never heard myself talking that way before. And I kinda liked that sound.

The first time I heard Not Ready to Make Nice I snapped to attention. The Chicks were singing exactly what I was feeling. Of course they had been playing for much greater personal and business stakes than I. But the exaltation at breaking through, at saying what they felt, at liking how they sounded: that was what I was feeling. That song was my anthem.

Even now, a decade later, I still get a glint in my eye when I hear it.

Copyright (c) Jack L. B. Gohn

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