Political Hardcore Troubadour: Steve Earle

We talked to Steve Earle while he was doing press in New York City for his new album, The Revolution Starts Now. He was workshopping his play Karla, which is based on the life of Karla Faye Tucker, the Texas prisoner put to death in Texas in 1998. He was also there to record as many editions of his Air America radio show (Sundays, 9–10 p.m. CST). Most importantly, Earle wanted to get into town “before they quit letting pinkos through the tunnel when the convention starts.” The revolutionary singer said he would be marching with the Philadelphia’s Kensington Welfare Rights Union.

While you were working on The Revolution Starts Now, you were also working on a Nashville version of the play The Exonerated.
It just worked out that way; it was the only time we could do it. I am actually trying to get my first play that I have written produced in New York right now. We started with a reading and are trying to get investors and producers interested in it.

That play is Karla, about Karla Faye Tucker? Has that been done anyplace else in the country?
It hasn’t been published yet. I would like to put it up here [NYC] before publishing it. I thought about publishing it, but I wasn’t quite ready to let it go yet. When I decided to write Karla, I really thought I would never write another play again because it was a lot of work. When we read it here in New York with some really good actors, number one, I was surprised to find that I didn’t want to rewrite anything and I really wanted to write another play. I am working on a novel right now, but I think after writing this novel I am going to concentrate on writing plays for my nonmusical output for awhile. I really dig it; it is a collaborative art form, and I think I am going to buy a place in New York. My child support and alimony ends this year. [Chuckles] I am going to live here part-time. I am going to keep my place in Nashville, too. I need a certain amount of time in the country and my dog will need a break from New York. New York is a great town. I do a lot of walking here. If you live in the country long enough, you just get sick of fucking driving. I live about 25 miles outside of Nashville and I spend a lot of my time in my car when I am there.

Ever thought about politics?
No, absolutely not. The Green Party in Tennessee actually approached me about four years ago about running for the senate. To paraphrase Grouch Marx, I am automatically suspicious of any party that would have me as a candidate.

Do you think combining music with politics is becoming a fad? Not necessarily in a bad way.
Certainly not. I have never separated politics and music. I have no problem communicating in political terms as long as they stay human. Other people aren’t as comfortable with it. You are seeing a lot of artists that don’t normally communicate in political terms doing it because they feel they can’t be quiet anymore. I don’t think it is a fad. I think it is an emergency. I think a lot of these people will go back to writing chick songs once they feel the emergency is over. When I made Jerusalem, a lot of people were asking, “Don’t you feel lonely out there doing it?” Well, yeah, but I don’t think this is the last of it. I think you are going to see a lot of other people making records like this. And I think you are already. As long as the war goes on and the country keeps heading in the direction it headed and Bush is President, I think you are going to see that increase.

What do you do if Bush wins?
I try not to think about that. I know some people that are incredible assets to the United States that are going to leave. People I really hate to lose. In a lot of ways, it is easier to figure out what to do if Bush wins than to figure out what to do if Kerry wins. If Kerry wins, the real work starts the day after because we are back in the game. If Bush wins? I didn’t think he could do as much damage as he did in four years; it is hard for me to get my head around what he can do with four more. He thinks that 500 votes is a mandate.

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