Like my favorite non-fiction in general, Willman is wandering about interviewing people, dragging the reader along with him as he explores (in this case) the intersection between Red States, Blue States, mainstream country music and alt country. The interviews were conducted around the 2004 presidential election and I bought the book in 2005. Reading it now (after the 2006 election, and after the release of Taking The Long Way and its sweep of the Grammys) is interesting, to say the least. Even in late 2004, the mainstream country music's appetite for boot-in-your-ass propaganda music had significantly dropped. By now, it's clear that the Chicks transition to pop is relatively complete, and while they aren't getting airplay on country stations they are still selling to a chunk of their old country audience (by no means all of it). It's fun to see that all the people -- on both sides of the political divide -- predicting the demise of the Chicks career turned out to be rather thoroughly wrong.
The author, given a distinct left coast/liberal bias, is remarkably even handed in his interviews and got a lot of people to talk to him quite candidly. I have not encountered any discussion of recent politics that got such a wide array of people to talk so openly about their work, politics and religion. In combination with my experience of radio while driving across country over the years leading up to when these interviews were done, it is enlightening. It can be hard for a highly connected person on either of the coasts -- in or out of a city -- to really understand how tightly controlled all the available information is in the middle of the country. And the repercussions, while predictable, are chilling when heard in the voices of so many well meaning, basically good people.
I don't know if it's possible to over-recommend this book. I think it would be interesting even to someone who knows absolutely nothing about the artists interviewed (I don't know much about the majority of the alt country people interviewed, and those were really interesting to read about), altho it helped that I knew a lot of the songs he referred to in the mainstream country section. But it really was a pivotal time in the culture wars -- those months when the pendulum had already started swinging back down towards the middle, but was still moving slowly, and the recent savagery of the attack on the Chicks still chilling discussion and debate.
I think it'll be out in paperback later this year, altho it was absolutely worth buying hardcover: