Steve Earle

Steve Earle


E-Squared / Artemis

pa•tri•ot: One who loves, supports, and defends one’s country.

trea•son: 1: Violation of allegiance toward one’s country or sovereign, especially the betrayal of one’s country by waging war against it or by consciously and purposely acting to aid its enemies. 2: A betrayal of trust or confidence.

Steve Earle, patriot? Yes. Steve Earle, treasonous? Many people are saying so. By having the audacity to challenge the (War) party line, one of America’s last protest singers has flown in the face of popular sentiment and actually dared to ask the questions that we as a nation are seemingly too blinded by fear or cowed by an oppressive government to voice. With the song “John Walker’s Blues,” Earle became the focus of talk radio airheads and generated reams of print frothing denouncing the song as a “treasonous” act simply because it appears on first glance to take the side of the “American Taliban,” John Walker. No matter that the song simply depicts Earle’s concept of what might have been going through the mind of a confused, disillusioned youth “…raised on MTV,” and the forces that possibly brought him to feel that “…and the first thing I heard that made sense was the word of Mohammed, peace be upon him.” No “America sucks.” No “death to the infidels.” Speaking a viewpoint — asking a question — is not treasonous. As much as some people would like to forget or negate the fact, each story has at least two sides.

What is treason? Steve Earle uses most of his new record, Jerusalem to show by example the second definition above. Feeling, as he puts it in the liner notes, “Like the loneliest man in America,” he illustrates how the notion that founded this nation, as contained in the Constitution, has slowly been eroded, warped into a bastardization of the very values it was created to protect. Songs such as “Amerika v. 6.0 (The Best We Can Do)” or the weary “What’s a Simple Man to Do?” reflect a nation bent on short-term, “me first” thinking, a nation bloated with power, corrupted by cash, and chillingly blind to the individual. Steve Earle’s pointed message, delivered via claustrophobic soundscapes such as the opening “Ashes To Ashes” might not be the “For What It’s Worth” of the new war, but it’s a noble attempt. Noble, because nobody else has the balls to do it.

Some have reasoned that Earle wrote this record — and “John Walker’s Blues” particularly — to garner media attention to revive a failing career. This is wrong on two points. First, short of doing an exercise video with Martha Stewart, nothing could be more unpopular than trying to take the plastic flags off of the mini-vans of our country right now. The people calling Earle a traitor will do so without buying the record, or even hearing the song. Accuracy is not the strong point of a lynch mob. No spike in sales there. Secondly, Steve Earle’s career is doing quite well, since he crashed and burned a decade ago with a mountain of cocaine, whiskey, and wives. He’s respected by those that matter, and has rebuilt himself by putting out a series of records that best anything he did before his “vacation.” No, Steve Earle made this record because he saw things that needed to be said, and said them. At the moment, he’s the only one doing so. Perhaps, if we re-enact a draft, we’ll actually get the youth of the country motivated to sing protest music again, and maybe some kid with a sampler and a skateboard will make a better record than this one. I imagine Steve Earle wouldn’t mind that a bit.

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