“And when it all was over …
The slate wiped clean with a touch.
There God stood and He saw it was good
And He said “ashes to ashes and dust to dust”.”
Music, like any art from, can be bent to reflect the personal nature of its creator. Steve Earle has been making music that defies genre for several decades and his output reflects his increasingly political mindset. From his beginnings as a Nashville songwriter, writing for classic artists like Carl Perkins and Johnny Lee in the seventies, Steve Earle made his own path through the music business. It took several years for him to attain major label success on MCA Nashville, after being dropped by Epic Records in the early eighties. His early albums for MCA, including “Copperhead Road” and “Guitar Town”, were certified country hits, although their sound owed as much to rock n roll and blues as to the veteran country musicians he was associated with. When compare to the Nashville ‘hat’ acts of the time, Steve Earle came across as a true talent with a sound not able to be duplicated or manufactured.
After a string of successful releases, Earle dropped from public life for several years in the 1990’s to spend some time in prison and deal with personal issues. These experiences, along with exposure to protest movements in his youth, led to his second career phase. Starting with the 1995 Warner Brothers Records release “Train A Comin’”, a Grammy winning comeback effort, Earle has continued to record material that is of a political and socially conscious nature. The trilogy of albums he released on E Squared Records (“Transcendental Blues”, “Jerusalem” and “The Revolution Starts Now”) were some of the few albums released that commented exclusively on both the politics of the time (the Bush years, 9/11, the Iraq War, etc.) as well as social commentaries on American life. One of the most poignant and infectious tracks from this period is ‘Ashes to Ashes’, a song from the 2002 release “Jerusalem”. While the song’s message is cloaked in biblical imagery, it is only one piece of a concept album reflecting on our post-9/11 times. Some writers have a difficult time taking newsworthy subjects and creating truly listenable material. Earle draws from the best topical songwriters and makes the genre his own, with this song crystallizing those efforts.
Due to the domination of mass media outlets and corporate influence, it is becoming increasingly rare to find artists reaching a large audience while making bold statements about the world we live in. Steve Earle is a perfect example of what young writers and musicians today should be following. By continuing to release personal and uncompromising albums, he presents himself as a self respecting artist with stories worth telling. Regardless of whether you agree with his viewpoints, the important statement is that he has a viewpoint. This is why we continue to migrate towards these great artists: their insightful eye into the human condition pointing out our own place in the world.