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Steve Earle

Callie points me to this bit of news on alt-country artist Steve Earle.

Steve Earle has been one of the heavy hitters in the alt-country movement, but I don't think his audience is going to receive this one very well. Earle may have finally fried his brain completely.

(07-22-02 Update) Much of bloggyland has been pretty predictable with this one, but Welch is a pleasant exception with a couple of interesting posts defending the possibility that Earle may simply be engaged in good songwriting, rather than advocacy. Welch further suggests we should probably wait to hear the song, and see what Earle has to say about it. Good enough advice.

I like Earle's previous work enough to give anything he releases a listen, and this will probably not be an exception. Unfortunately, this song doesn't sound much like Tom Ames' Prayer! Earle's politics are, it's probably safe to say, way to the left of the political leanings of his core audience (hint: that audience probably doesn't hang on the political pronouncements of Sting, either), and if this song (and associated album) is his effort to preach to them the errors of their ways ... well, as I said above originally, I don't think they're going to be very impressed.

(07-22-02 Update 2) As an example of what I mean when I write that Steve Earle's alt-country fan base may not react well if his song does, indeed, come off as reactionary leftist preaching, here's a link to a story about Jimmie Dale Gilmore, the legendary Texas songwriter (who is now touring with Butch Hancock and Joe Ely, as the Flatlanders), who managed to offend some Mucky Duck fans a while back with his criticism of Bush/Cheney policies.

(07-22-02 Update 3) Okay, I have to stop updating this entry, but I just ran across a new blog (to me) with these relevant comments, as well as lots of other good stuff.

(07-23-02 Update) This is the last update (and nobody will see it anyway, since it's scrolled down so far, but this blog is for me as much as anyone, and I know it's here), but Ken Layne has fairly well nailed it:

While the New York Post might not think much of Earle, the New Yorker and New York Times can't seem to get enough of him. He even got a publisher to put out a collection of his short stories last year.

And there's the danger. That fancy Manhattan attention got to Earle's already big head and convinced him he wasn't just a talented Texas songwriter, but a Serious Writer addressing Serious Issues. And serious writers type dull short stories for other serious writers to praise. Last time I saw him on Letterman, he was wearing eyeglasses, for God's sake.

It's one thing to annoy conservative Nashville with coffeehouse claims of Marxism and stands against the death penalty and land mines, as Earle has done for years. His fans can take or leave this stuff, as long as the music's good. And it's fine to write a song about Johnny Taliban, because who hasn't wondered what goes on inside that kid's head?

The trouble comes when you let the ruckus kill the art, when you claim oppression before the record is even released. Unless this country magically became Iran yesterday, performing a controversial song is still punished by a lot of free publicity. Leave the phony martyr routine to Susan Sontag, Steve. It's a tired, dull act.

[Posted at 13:32 CST on 07/21/02] [Link]

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