Dixie Chicks – “Goodbye Earl”

Released: 2.29.00

Peak: #19

Nashville-bashers, particularly the sort who think Waylon could sing, rarely admit their real problem with pop country–its girls are too girly. And rarely had Today’s Country been more gal-friendly than at the millennium’s turn, post-Garth and pre-Osama. Front of the line was Music Row prom queen Faith Hill, who triangulated Shania and Britney, foxing herself up in sexy Halloween costumery for “The Way You Love Me”; that cute vocoder bit just might have won me over if she didn’t dictate the rest as though squinting to read the cue cards. As for her compulsion to clobber ballads, well,  how could she possibly hear him “Breathe” over those gigantor drums?

But three semi-traditionalist bottle-blondes rowdying up fiddle-based girls-night-outers proved as sui generis as Come On Over itself. The Dixie Chicks spawned icky imitators for sure–in “I Will. . . But,” SheDAISY interpreted personal autonomy as a refusal to wear stiletto heels, which I guess counts for something in the GGW era, not to mention up against the Chicks’ own “Cowboy Take Me Away.” (Come back Paula Cole, all is forgiven. OK, forgotten, then.) But as country’s answer to Destiny’s Child, the Chicks confounded the synthetic and the organic–their song structures and bright-toned sensibility smacked of pop, but you coulda found most of their instrumentation around grandpa’s house.

The third hit from an album that spawned eight of ’em, “Goodbye Earl” made spousal murder sound like even more of a blast than Eminem did–tiresome chores are always more fun when your friends pitch in. In contrast to the standard murder ballad of old, where little motive for the crime surfaces other than the haunted mysteries of a man’s heart (tough luck, womenfolk), Earl gives Wanda plenty reason to off him. And if it maybe trivializes domestic violence to simplify its dilemma into chin up sing-along determination, that’s just pop’s way, you know? I love Martina McBride’s “Independence Day” too, but do its garish strokes of melodrama make for any more honest way of addressing issue? And, not to change the subject, but how awesome would it be if 2010 brought a Rihanna cover?

After all that Bush kerfluffle, “Goodbye Earl” echoes from a simpler time, when black-eyed peas were a way to off your spouse. and your humps were called “Tennessee ham.” (If only “Not Ready to Make Nice” had turned out as tough and spunky as “Goodbye Earl.”) The song did stir up a smidgen of controversy, albeit the sort gets CDs sold rather than smashed. Men’s rightsers wondered why liberal softies like me, usually so ready to let criminals wander free though our neighborhoods, always turn into Judge Dredd when it comes to wife-beaters. So let me note responsibly that even if Earl turned out to be “a missing person who nobody missed at all,” he certainly deserved a fair trial. Of course, Mary Ann and Wanda would deserve a trial as well. And like any jury would convict Lauren Holly and Jane Krakowski–unless it was for the crime of just being too darn cute, amirite?

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  • Craig B  On January 13, 2010 at 10:19 am

    I dunno. I thought I liked the Dixie Chicks (even though I’ve only ever heard about 8 of their songs.) But this one, blech. Waaay to sugary. And I LIKE treating violence and death humorously!

  • Matt Cibula  On January 14, 2010 at 8:10 am

    Love the song, like much of the analysis. Cannot agree that the REAL reason that people dislike Nashville is the femininity of its females, because no one is more feminine-sounding than the old-tyme Nashville chicks that “NashVegas” bashers adore: Loretta, Patsy, Kitty, Dolly, etc. So we’ll have to disagree on that one. But hellfire, son, this is a great project and you know I love yr writing/thinking so I will consider this ESSENTIAL READING YAY.

  • usefulnoise  On January 15, 2010 at 2:16 pm

    Ok, “real” problem is overstating/simplifying it. But I’d clarify by saying it’s not so much their femininity being objected to as it is the *female-identified* nature of their music–Shania (Garth for that matter) make music the ladies like (“pop”), which is an affront to old dudes of all ages.

    And yeah, great to hear from you again Matt!

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