Discovering Steve Earle (and country music)

A guest poster at Crooks and Liars has just discovered Steve Earle -- the unapologetically left-wing country rocker from Tennessee:

"You probably think country/bluegrass musicians who live in the South are all foaming-at-the-mouth wingers, right? Nope, you're not even close. Check out Steve Earle. He's profane, passionate, funny, and very political."

Strange words, however you dice it (why would someone "probably" think all country and bluegrass players are wingnuts? and just those "who live in the South?" "foaming-at-the- mouth?"). Then again, the author does live in Los Angeles.

However misguided, I throw out the welcome mat to anyone who's gaining a deeper appreciation of the rich progressive history of country music. Even better that they discover the excellent Steve Earle, even if to some of us this sounds a bit like saying, "say, have you heard about that Martin Luther King, Jr. fellow?"

Steve Earle is indeed a remarkable guy -- although in a way, we're lucky he's still with us. The arc of his life story is amazing, as this synopsis of Hardcore Troubadour: The Life and Near Death of Steve Earle (a fascinating book, although too gossipy) makes plain:

Steve Earle is the musicians' idol - a hero to Emmylou Harris - who has said of his life "If I'd known I was going to live this long I'd have taken better care of myself." He was taking heroin at 13 and by the age of 40 was mired in a seemingly permanent "vacation in the ghetto." In and out of jail for a variety of offenses, Earle seemed determined to make good on his boast that when the end of the world came (and it seemed pretty close at times) only he, Keith Richards and the cockroaches would be left standing. Not yet 50, he has been married six times, twice to the same woman, and amazingly forgiven by almost all of the ex-wives.

In the face of all these devils -- substance abuse being the toughest -- Steve has penned some of the most beautiful and/or provocative music you'll ever hear. It's all good stuff, although I'm partial to the less raucous (but still deeply political) songs of The Mountain and Jerusalem.

My friends in Tennessee say that he's always been willing to lend a hand to progressive causes, especially benefits to stop the death penalty. In recent years, with more exposure, this has expanded to broader issues of racial and economic justice and stopping the war.

He's an outlaw, a poet and a radical -- and definitely Southern to the bone. Keep spreading the word, maybe we can stop the "foaming-at-the-mouth" stereotypes once and for all.