Flashback Friday: “Goodbye Earl”

(I know, it’s not that far back a Flashback Friday today…but this is for all of those who are right now waiting for the moment when they can finally say “Goodbye Earl” to the latest hurricane sweeping up the East Coast. Soon, my shore-dwelling denizens! Very soon!)

Oh, those Dixie Chicks. Even before they were stirring up trouble with anti-Bush comments that knocked them from their status as country divas, they were treading hot water. One of the first times they rattled the cage? With the song “Goodbye Earl.” This third release from their second studio album, Fly, tells the story of two best friends, MaryAnn and Wanda, who get away with killing Wanda’s abusive husband, Earl (it also irritates me for its lack of proper punctuation in the title…but I think that’s just me).

[Loba Tangent: As if there wasn’t enough black humor all throughout this song, the Chicks released a single of “Goodbye Earl” with their own cover of Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man” as the B-side song. Oh, those clever girls.}

When “Goodbye Earl” came out in 1999, I remember varying degrees of “panties-in-a-wad” syndrome from several groups, including an interesting argument regarding an assumed racism on the part of stores and radio stations that willingly sold or played songs like “Goodbye Earl” or other songs from the country music genre that propagated murder as a solution while banning and condemning similarly themed songs from the rap music genre.

That’s an interesting argument, but one that doesn’t completely hold water in my opinion. While it is true that murder is being proposed as a solution both in “Goodbye Earl” and in songs like Ice-T’s “Cop Killer,” one is proposing it as a solution for escaping an abusive husband from whom Wanda is unable get protection via the “proper authorities.” The other is promoting random violence against any officer because of misdirected anger over police brutality. Ironically, both focus on the failures of the police to “protect and serve,” as is their credo.

I do agree that there is a certain bit of disingenuous disdain directed toward songs like “Cop Killer.” If you listen to this song, there is definitely a recognizable level of black humor taking place. Of course, you have to wade through a morass of overwrought obscenity and pedantic lyrics to get to it. To me, that’s the true failure of this song in comparison with “Goodbye Earl”: Where the latter is composed of clever lyrics that take on a dark and frightening situation in humorous but provocative ways, the former is just a pathetic, juvenile rant against something that deserves a far more intelligent argument against it.

Police brutality, just like domestic violence, should be addressed, but putting out a song with lyrics as “profound” as “Die, die, die, pig, die”? Sorry, but that just gets a FAIL. Guess I’m guilty of extreme snobbery when it comes to clever versus insipid writing. Also, I’m related to a former police officer who came as close to being killed while on duty as any of us would ever have preferred her to come. To hear a song that promotes the random killing of anyone wearing a police uniform really doesn’t sit well with me, regardless of the attempted black humor behind it.

Well, there you go. A little Dixie Chicks history and some armchair sociological blathering to boot. I guess I should at least post the video to the song now, eh? This is one of my all-time favorite music videos from one of my all-time favorite bands. It’s funny, it’s silly, it’s got recognizable actors, and it’s got happy, adorable dancing Dixie Chicks. With banjos. And a zombie. Seriously, what’s not to love?