Bruce Springsteen has come, however belatedly, to the defense of the Dixie Chicks. (The E Street Band has been touring in Australia and Canada, so maybe he hasn't been paying close attention to the news.) In a statement on his website, he blasts the backlash against the country trio, who have seen their songs removed from radio playlists since singer Natalie Maines' March 10 comment that the group was ashamed President Bush is from Texas.
''The Dixie Chicks have taken a big hit lately for exercising their basic right to express themselves, To me, they're terrific American artists expressing American values by using their American right to free speech,'' Springsteen wrote. ''For them to be banished wholesale from radio stations, and even entire radio networks, for speaking out is un-American. The pressure coming from the government and big business to enforce conformity of thought concerning the war and politics goes against everything that this country is about -- namely freedom. Right now, we are supposedly fighting to create free speech in Iraq, at the same time that some are trying to intimidate and punish people for using that same freedom here at home. I don't know what happens next, but I do want to add my voice to those who think that the Dixie Chicks are getting a raw deal, and an un-American one to boot. I send them my support."
Springsteen knows what it's like to be at the other end of a blacklist, having endured calls for a boycott from police groups in 2000 in response to his song ''American Skin,'' inspired by the killing of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed suspect shot 19 times by New York police officers in the vestibule of his apartment building in 1999. Like the Dixie Chicks, he's also criticized the president and the war effort. In February, he told Entertainment Weekly, ''I think the administration took September 11 and used it as a blank check. And like most Americans, I'm not sure the case has been made to put our sons and our daughters and innocent citizens at risk at this particular moment. But I don't think that's gonna matter, unfortunately.... You try not to be cynical, but without the distraction of Iraq, [people would notice] that the economy is doing poorly, and the old-fashioned Republican tax cuts for the folks that are doin' well will seriously curtail services for people who are struggling out there. I don't think that's the kind of country that Americans really want.''
While the Dixie Chicks may be little heard on the radio these days, their agent says their upcoming concert tour is all but sold out, and their album ''Home'' has remained in the No. 1 or No. 2 slot on the Billboard country chart for the last few weeks. And now, the trio will talk -- in an exclusive interview in this week's issue of Entertainment Weekly and to Diane Sawyer on ABC's ''PrimeTime Live'' on Thursday.