One of the things about writing a blog (as opposed to writing for print media) is that I don’t know very much about the people who read the pieces I post here. I don’t, for example, know how old my readers are. I assume I probably don’t have that many readers in their teens or twenties, but there’s no way to find out without asking you all to fill in a survey widget, at which point I imagine none of you would ever come back here again.
Because I don’t know how old any of my readers are, I don’t know whether you’ll all remember the incident that provides the backstory to today’s song, so I’ll got back over it, but only briefly, lest I bore the rest of you.
In March 2003, a few days before the invasion of Iraq by a coalition led by the US and the UK, the Dixie Chicks played a concert in London. The group’s lead singer Natalie Maines expressed her disgust at the military action and said that she and her bandmates were ashamed that President George W Bush was from their home state of Texas. The audience cheered (British solidarity with the US after 9/11 never led to much personal support for Bush).
Their American audience back home, or more accurately a large minority of their audience, particularly in the south, was appalled and angry. Their then single, a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide, dropped 33 places down the chart in one week, and the band, Maines especially, received death threats.
The liberal media and the rock press, previously lukewarm towards the trio, came out in support of them, though, and their 2006 album, Taking the Long Way, which was in large part a comment on the 2003 controversy, received the best reviews of their career and a boatload of Grammys.
For that album, the trio looked to writers and co-writers outside the Nashville system, and lighted upon Semisonic’s Dan Wilson (then taking his first steps as a writer for hire, now one of the most highly remunerated writers in the business) and the Jayhawks’ Gary Louris. Everybody Knows, co-written with Louris, was a far sharper comment on living as a pariah than the more showy Not Ready to Make Nice, which was plodding and earnest by comparison, with a leaden string arrangement. But Everybody Knows was only a minor hit, while Not Ready to Make Nice, co-written by Wilson, went top five and won three Grammys, including record of the year and song of the year.
Now, Louris and the Jayhawks have recorded their own version of Everybody Knows for their new album, Back Roads and Abandoned Motels, a collection of songs Louris has written over the years with other artists. The Jayhawks version of Everybody Knows – the only track available from the album at the moment – is wonderful, with an excellent, moving vocal from Louris and top-notch ensemble performances, particularly from drummer Tim O’Reagan (solid but supple, everything the song needs and nothing more) and the ever-reliable Karen Grotberg on piano and backing vocals. I’ve listened to it over and over in the couple of days since I first heard it, and it makes me smile every single time.