Nashville's "Bad Boy" Steve Earle

Jay Moore pieinsky at
Fri Sep 20 08:51:43 MDT 2002

The dissent of man
Forget Springsteen's posturing and the redneck mentality of Toby Keith; it's
Steve Earle's response to September 11 that has been causing a stir in the
States. It could even get him arrested. Andy Gill meets Nashville's bad boy

The Independent (UK)
20 September 2002

Right now, Steve Earle is feeling, to use his own term, "urgently" American.
Coming from most of his fellow countrymen, that could be easily
misinterpreted as a synonym for the bellicose patriotism that seeks revenge
for last September's terrorist attacks. But nothing could be farther from
the truth. The Americanism of which Earle speaks involves the hard-won
democratic traditions of free speech and civil liberties, and his urgency
comes in response to the way those traditions are being swiftly eroded in
the wake of September 11 through the Bush administration's ironically-named
Patriot Act and its headlong rush to attack Iraq.

"It's not an erosion of civil liberties," Earle corrects me as we talk in
the deserted bar of a hotel in Park Lane, west London. "It's been a
deliberate short-circuiting of civil liberties. What's eroded is our own
defensiveness: we were so ready to impale our civil liberties on our own
fear, after September 11. The difference between my record and others is
that I'm more afraid of that phenomenon than of hijackers and terrorist
attempts: I think it will potentially affect more lives, and even cost more
lives, in the long run."

The record in question is Jerusalem, Earle's sixth album in as many years,
and the first considered response to the attacks of last September by an
American artist. Until its recent release, the responses fell into two broad
camps: the piteous hand-wringing and heroic posturing of Bruce Springsteen
and Neil Young's last albums, or the knee-jerk redneck anger of Toby Keith's
"Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)", which Earle
believes panders to the worst instincts of his countrymen. In all cases, the
tragedy was viewed as something that happened to America, rather than as an
action with a much wider and more complex context to consider - a striking
illustration of the self-obsession afflicting a country whose inhabitants
have so little regard for the outside world that fewer than 30 per cent of
them have even bothered applying for a passport.

"We don't travel outside our own country," agrees Earle. "Most Western
European countries have been the most powerful country in the world, and
know that it doesn't last for ever, and that there's life after that, and
we're still carrying ourselves as if we're gonna be the big dog for ever,
and we're pissing people off. The question that we're not asking is, 'What
made everybody hate us so much?' I don't think we deserved it [the attack] -
no one deserves it - but I think it's a question that needs asking."


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