Published March 23, 2006
Three years ago, the Dixie Chicks were getting death threats for the stands they took on the Iraq war. Now, in the first single from their new album, they address those threats head on. The song is called “Not Ready to Make Nice.”
“And how in the world can the words that I said/Send somebody so over the edge/That they’d write me a letter/Sayin’ that I better shut up and sing/Or my life will be over.”
I cannot recall in the history of pop, country, rock or R&B — maybe somewhere in rap — this issue coming up. In the same song, lead singer Natalie Maines warbles: “It’s a sad, sad story when a mother will teach her/Daughter that she ought to hate a perfect stranger.”
I’ve heard the album, called "Taking the Long Way," due out May 23, and it’s a potential blockbuster. “Not Ready to Make Nice” is already making inroads on country radio after being leaked last week.
According to Billboard’s Radio Monitor, the single jumped from 54 to 36 in one week, with 3,703 “spins” on country radio alone. The single is also listed as a 94 percent probable success on the Hit Predictor chart.
All of that is to say, country music listeners don’t seem to mind that the Dixie Chicks are speaking their minds about several topics including the war in Iraq and President Bush. They are not the first people you think of as war protesters or folk singers with a message. But the Dixie Chicks are back with their first album in four years, and they are mad as hell.
Back in 2003, the Chicks revealed that they’d installed metal detectors at their shows and were receiving hate mail and death threats.
In “Make Nice,” the Chicks announce quite succinctly that they’re not sorry for anything they’ve said and they are going forward, heads held high. The chorus of the song is: “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.”
Not all of “Taking the Long Way” is combative. Indeed, most of it is introspective country pop rock. All the songs are written by the Chicks with collaborator Dan Wilson, but there also are some guest writers including Sheryl Crow, Linda Perry and Keb Mo.
Of the 14 tracks, at least 8 stand out as possible singles, which will be good news to Sony Music. They should expect first-week sales, when the album hits stores, of 750,000 or more.
Among the highlights are “I Hope,” “Easy Silence” and “Favorite Year.”
And they’re not all ballads: “Lubbock or Leave It” is good old-fashioned Texas rock 'n' roll. When the album is released, there should be a flood of Dixie Chicks music on the radio.
But “Nice” is sure to stir things up again for the group. In March 2003, lead singer Maines told an audience in London, "Just so you know, we're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas." A month later she softened a bit, telling Diane Sawyer: "It was the wrong wording with genuine emotion and questions and concern behind it. ... Am I sorry that I asked questions and that I just don't follow? No."
She hasn’t changed her mind or her opinions. No one will ever accuse the Dixie Chicks of flip-flopping, that’s for sure.
I guess I kind of ignored the story of Kathleen Troia McFarland, a possible Republican contender for the New York Senate and competition for Hillary Clinton. All the local New York papers have been all over McFarland, however, skewering her on a number of subjects.
The gist of their anger is that she’s a wealthy housewife who somehow inveigled herself into local politics.
But this is what the papers don’t know about McFarland’s background. I wrote about her and her husband a little over a decade ago in New York magazine when they were involved in a strange story. The title of my article was “Who Gets the Park Avenue Kid?” It was in the Oct. 2, 1995, issue. It’s a story that would make Dominick Dunne clap with glee because it was the talk of New York society.
Here’s what happened: Kathleen’s husband, Alan McFarland, has a first wife, Ellen “Nell” Sawyer. Nell and Alan had two children, Gavin and Andrew. But David Sawyer, Nell’s new husband, had none. The couple adopted a little boy named Luke, who by 1995 was 8 years old.
Nell Sawyer had had such an acrimonious divorce from McFarland. She really despised him, and didn’t want him to get her hands on her enormous wealth.
Nell was the daughter of multimillionaire Clifford Michel, one of the founding partners of the great Wall Street investment firm Loeb Rhoades. In their 1987 divorce, McFarland lost a Southampton mansion named the QE III, among other things. It was a bad scene. McFarland, cut off from the Michel money, then married Troia and started a new family.
Fast forward to 1995. Nell Sawyer was suffering from breast cancer. Unexpectedly, that summer, her husband, David, suddenly died. David Sawyer is another story altogether: His Sawyer/Miller public relations company was a force in geo-political chaos.
He was a power player and a not a terribly nice guy. It turned out after he died that he’d played fast and loose with pension monies due his first wife. They’d been married for 25 years.
Alas, two weeks after David Sawyer died, so did Nell Sawyer. Suddenly, little Luke was orphaned. Nell Sawyer had made plans for her son, however. In May 2005, she’d added a codicil to her will designating friends Leola and Robert McDonald as his guardians. She chose back-up guardians should the McDonalds be unavailable.
What was clear was that Ellen Michel Sawyer McFarland did not want her little boy to be raised by her ex-husband and Kathleen Troia McFarland. But neither of the designated couples ever took Luke.
Mysteriously, and without question, the boy immediately went to live with his mother’s ex-husband and his second wife. According to court papers, the now 17-year-old Luke’s court-appointed guardians became his older brother Gavin, then 23, and the possible next senator from New York: Kathleen Troia McFarland.
This was specifically against Ellen Sawyer’s wishes. She disliked Alan McFarland so much that in 1992, she wrote in her will that she didn’t want him to raise her child or get back the Southampton mansion she’d won in their divorce:
“It is my strong wish and desire that in no event shall the Southampton residence be sold, given, or otherwise transferred to my former husband, Alan R. McFarland, nor shall he be permitted to enjoy its use in any way.”
And the house? According to public filings, its six full bathrooms and four bedrooms were sold by Ellen Sawyer’s estate exactly one year after she died to Texas banking magnate Gerald J. Ford for $5.25 million. It was an all-cash deal.
Spike Lee’s heist thriller “The Inside Man” opens tomorrow starring Denzel Washington, Clive Owen and Jodie Foster. So who’s the inside man?
I can’t give it away, but I can tell you there was an “inside man” on the script. None other than Terry George, writer and director of "Hotel Rwanda," was brought in to fix up the script after the first-timer Russell Gewirtz’s vision got stalled. Of course, this sort of thing happens all the time.
“The Inside Man” looks like a hit, which is good news for Spike. My only complaint about the film is that his sister, Joie Lee, isn’t in it. She’s been in most of his films starting with “She’s Gotta Have It.” I saw Joie Lee at the film’s premiere this week, and she told me she’s got lots of projects coming up. But still, we miss her.
At the swanky Jazz at Lincoln Center premiere, besides Fonzworth Bentley (see Tuesday’s column), I also ran into actress LaTonya Richardson (wife of Samuel L. Jackson) and Kai Milla (fashion designer wife of Stevie Wonder), as well as Julian Schnabel, his enterprising young son Vittorio, Alan Dershowitz and "Prozac Nation" author Elizabeth Wurtzel, who’s studying law at Yale.
There was a lot of talk among all the celebs assembled, but it was Schnabel — painter, director — who was busy chatting with Clive Owen. “We’re cooking something up,” Clive said.
I also met a legit producer of films and commercials who introduced himself to me — proudly— as a former big-time drug dealer. America is a great, great country, folks.
Dr. John, known to his family as Mac Rebennack, has joined David Fishof’s summer 2006 edition of Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp, which is planned for Aug. 13 to Aug. 17 in New York. Other counselors are Jon Anderson (Yes), Levon Helm (The Band), Joe Satriani, Dee Snider, George Thorogood and our pal Max Weinberg, leader of the Conan O'Brien band and an original Springsteen E Streeter…
Fishof also tells me he’s convinced Ringo Starr to take his All Starr Band on the road again this summer. Featured players include The Zombies’ Rod Argent, Richard Marx, Sheila E, Mark Hudson and the inexplicable Billy Squier. This means audiences will get to hear “Hold Your Head Up,” “Time of the Season” and “She’s Not There” from the legendary Argent, but I would pay not to hear any Squier songs or see him do any splits on stage…
Oscar-winner Philip Seymour Hoffman has a talented writer-director brother named Gordy. His first feature, “A Coast of Snow,” makes its North American Premiere at Hollywood’s Arclight Cinemas on March 26 at 7:45 p.m. as a part of the Silver Lake Film Festival…
Best wishes to Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, who will undergo throat surgery shortly. Tyler’s had a tough year, but he’s a rocker and a survivor. I expect we’ll see him whooping it up again soon. He’s the American Mick Jagger, after all. We need him…
Jessica Domain plays Pianos on New York’s Lower East Side on Saturday at 7 p.m. Seth Adam Band is there Monday. All their music can be heard on Myspace.com. Don’t miss them…