As Long As It Takes – The Progressive, 5/30/2003

Just got back from a tour of duty as human shield for the Dixie Chicks. Fair is fowl. After a concert where one of the Chicks had expressed embarrassment about the Texas roots of the president, the country trio began taking heavy incoming from the Clear Channel Company, a media empire that independent artists have been complaining about for years.

The CCC owns 1,200 radio stations, dozens of TV stations, SFX concert promotions, and thousands of billboards nationwide. This goliath has been taking hits from listeners fighting with their little MP3s, but they continue to carpet bomb the desert with Celine Dion, who can take the top of your head off with invisible piercing high notes.

It was good to be on the road with the Chicks. After Juggernaut George beat Fox to the punch by preemptively declaring war, I was in danger of getting embedded in my couch. When I wasn’t out marching with Code Pink, United for Peace and Justice, or New Yorkers Say No To War, I was home anxiously watching, trying not to eat all the supplies stashed in my home emergency kit.

Couch potato, all eyes, yet blind, I limited my primary viewing to BBC, with occasional side surfs, in the hopes of catching one of the Fox, MSNBC, or CNN correspondents I loathe under really uncomfortable conditions. Draft Tucker Carlson!

Then I noticed that my galpal and I had unwittingly begun mimicking the patois interruptus of trans-world conversation. Left to mind the home desk, the anchor, all coifed and clean, whom you secretly scorn as a loser for not being able to pass the stringent war roadie/toady test, asks a question. On the split screen, the wind-whipped Embedouin stares blankly for a delayed second. Just when you think he has not heard the question, he responds, “Well, Dan, that’s absolutely right.” Always the “well.” Always the desk jockey’s name. Always acquiescent. After four days of watching, I heard the rhythms of our home chatter. “Honey, do you have the war/sports section?” Pause, pause, pause. “Well, Yes, Urvashi, I do.”

So finally, I had to ration my war watching to just two fifteen minute check-ins in the morning and at night. During one of my check-ins, after a pointless petulant press briefing with Donald Bombalicious Rumsfeld, formerly of the Shockenaw Tribe, I watched Matt Lauer in wrap-around sunglasses doing the morning news round up from Kuwait City. He seemed pouty. Jet-lagged? Missed his own barber? Miffed he wasn’t off riding in a tank? Behind him stood large, lush green palm trees, balm to my eyes starved for color by the monochromatic diet of the long winter. He reviewed the unnatural green murk of night footage with a correspondent, and in that silence between question/answer, I heard the improbable sound of chirping morning birds. It was like a slap.

I had seen a picture in the special war section of the dry cracked palms of a marine cupping a pigeon he’d been given to detect chemical attacks. He had named it, “Devil Bird.” And another picture of a dust-blown marine with “Dirty Bird” scrawled on his helmet. In the Northeast, after a long creamsicle winter of white snow and orange alerts, we’d just begun to hear the morning birds again. Our birds seemed a bit tentative because of the freak freezes. But these morning birds in Kuwait were full throated, busy doing high-season bird things. I have listened again for them each night since then and heard nothing.

But cheerio, chaps, I’m off on another tour of duty as human shield. This time for dove comic Janeane Garofalo, the weary butt of hawking comics, who was booed in absentia at Carnegie Hall during the twentieth anniversary celebration of Caroline’s Comedy Club.

How long will I do it? As long as it takes.

Kate “Unembedded Birdwatcher” Clinton is a humorist.