Magazine article Editor & Publisher


Magazine article Editor & Publisher


Article excerpt


The great rock/protest singer reads the news today, oh boy

Steve Earle used to shoot drugs. Now he main- lines the latest news. Like Woody Guthrie, Will Rogers, Phil Ochs, and many other social critics before him, Earle is a self-professed newspaper "addict." He is also one of the best songwriters of his generation, a playwright, political activist, ex-con, fiction writer, and star of the Amos Poe documentary, Just an American Boy, to be released in movie theaters this month.

Earle, who is equally adept at rock 'n' roll, alt-country, folk protest and bluegrass music, has recorded more than a dozen semi-popular albums (including a new live set), though he is best known to the mainstream for the controversy sur- rounding his 2002 song "John Walker Blues," which landed him on Nightline and Crossfire. Critics did not understand it was the song's narrator defending the Taliban, not Earle himself. It was like confusing George Harrison with the "taxman" and John Lennon with the "walrus."

This month, Earle embarks on the "Tell Us the Truth" tour with Tom Morello, Billy Bragg and others, which hits The National Conference on Media Reform in Madison, Wisc. this weekend. E&P sat down with Earle last week in New York. Excerpts from the interview follow (a full transcript is available at

Tell us about the origins of the John Walker flap.

It started with the New York Post and its headline "Twisted Ballad Honors Tali-rat." It was weird how it happened. There's a guy who is a stringer and also an aspiring songwriter, Aly Sujo, and he comes to Nashville every once in a while. I played "John Walker's Blues" for a friend in a studio, I'd just written it, and he mentioned it to Sujo, who was in Nashville pitching songs, and he wrote the Post story. The funny thing was, after all this happened, this guy Sujo sent me a tape of his songs!

Do you still read newspapers a lot?

I used to think people who lived in Nashville and read The New York Times were pretentious until Gannett bought The Tennessean. That was a real crime; it had such a great tradition. As John Seigenthaler's paper, it was a great American newspaper.

So now I read the New York Times almost every day. My drummer is a newspaper addict too, so when we're on the road one of us will try to find it and then hand it off. …

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