Steve Earle's latest release The Revolution Starts...Now is his best work since the 1986 classic Guitar Town.
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Steve Earle's latest release The Revolution Starts…Now is his best work since the 1986 classic Guitar Town. It's the quintessential American record because it's got all the anger, confusion, and quiet sadness you'd expect from a country at war. All the crucial Earle-isms are there: Freedom of speech ("F the CC"—a crash-your-car jam), activism ("The Revolution Starts Now"), and, most of all, the state of the union as soldiers and civilians fall in Iraq (it's a theme throughout the record). And just to keep listeners from burning down their local Army recruiting center, he throws in a few sweet-sounding love songs, too, including a breathless ode to U.S. national security advisor Condoleeza Rice ("Condi, Condi"). Earle called right before one of his last-minute "gotta-pay-my-child-support-and- alimony" gigs in Reno to talk about the album and what it means to be an American.
VICE: This is your best album in years, but I heard you pounded it out in a matter of days.
Earle: I was waking up in the morning with a blank piece of paper and writing a song and recording it that night. I wanted to get it out before the election.
There are so many references to Iraq, it's like a concept album.
Well, there's six or seven songs on there that are completely and totally about this war.
Even the love songs. Like that one about Condoleeza Rice.
Don't you think she's hot?
Yeah, I do. I like the British teeth thing she's got going on, and the freckles are nice too.
When I wrote it I was thinking—you ever been to Negril [Jamaica] where those machete rastas at the back of the beach are always giving you a pound of pot and saying, "Hold my dope, mon," and then they come back the next day and demand the money? I wrote it as one of those guys in D.C. looking for Condoleeza.
You caught a lot of flack on your last studio album for singing a song in the voice of American Taliban John Walker Lindh. What do you see as the hot-button song this time around?
"F the CC." I've never said "fuck" in a song before but I think we're living in a time when it's like, everybody needs to know who Lenny Bruce was. I never thought I'd find myself actively defending Howard Stern, but I am. These little things are important. We are seeing a real test of our Constitution right now. And I've always said that I think that it's a document that turned out to be a lot hipper than its framers intended it to be. But I think it's what we will be remembered for. And to me being a patriot is being loyal to that document. But that being said, that document requires us being absolutely vigilant all the time. And that's what puts the humanity in it.
That's what makes it a living, breathing thing. And that's what I'm patriotic about. That's what I'll fight to defend. And I'm not willing to fight to defend my right to pay less money for gas than anybody else. We're just now paying the same for a gallon of gasoline that the rest of the world pays for a fucking liter, and we're pissing and moaning about it. Also, I'm not willing to fight to defend the flag. There's a reason why Canadian kids sew maple leaf flags on their backpacks when they travel. It's so nobody will think they're fuckin' Americans.
Americans do that too sometimes.
Absolutely—but I don't. And I don't apologize for being an American anywhere I go in the world. And I've gotten in some very heated discussions with some Europeans. I tell Europeans all the time, "Never forget that Americans are fuckin' Europeans."
After Bush took office in 2001, you said, "Aw, we can handle this guy. If we survived Reagan's second term, this shouldn't be a problem." You still feel that way?
What I was probably addressing was apathy. A lot of people have given up. The people that stopped the Vietnam War went and opened water-bed stores and had kids named Dylan and Chelsea and bought Volvos and quit fighting. We've had a couple generations of pretty nonpolitical kids in a row. I understand why some people just aren't wired for activism, but I think we're in a period of time where the stakes are higher.
Bush has turned out to be something that I couldn't predict. At the time, I thought Bush was just stupid, and the neocons had put him in there and he was their front guy. I didn't count on Sept. 11, and I didn't count on the aftermath of Sept. 11, and I didn't count on this really kind of scary fundamentalist Christian slant to Bush's own rhetoric. That's been a real wild card. Bush is very loyal to the people who put him into office, but he's got his own thing going now. You know, I really do believe that he thinks he has God on his side, and it's really frightening. A lot of things have happened I don't think any of us could have predicted, but now I believe that if Bush has four more years in office, our grandchildren are fucked. Just the amount of damage that's been done to environmental policy alone…if that goes on for four more years, they will drill in Alaska. Plus, you know this administration will have us at war forever. They just don't understand what's wrong with that concept.
But most Americans don't understand either.
If I hear one more person say, "They hate us because we're free…" They hate us because we support the House of Saud and because we support Israel. And people in France and in England think that we're fucking idiots because we have a President that can't string a sentence together and because we walk around feeling entitled.
I really do believe that what we're living through right now is what's going to determine the relatively short-term fate of this empire. Nobody stays the most powerful country in the world forever. And there's two ways you can go out: You can do what England did and just eventually fade into not being the most powerful country in the world anymore, or you can fucking cease to exist the way the Soviet Union did. And I think we're on the latter path, the way that we're carrying ourselves.
So the West is doomed.
Look, teach your kids to speak Mandarin and Spanish. Those are the two most widely spoken languages in the world. There's no way those people are not gonna have their day. They're gonna have their turn.
So what are we supposed to do?
You know, sometimes you might find that you've got more of a platform than you think you do. You decide where you spend your money, whether you vote or not, how informed you are when you vote. I mean, look at Spain––there's some real live democracy happening there. They had a bombing and there was an election coming up and they decided that they were at risk for aligning themselves with the United States, so they threw their fucking government out. That's pretty democratic. And they're staying on track, too. They're going to have all their troops out of Iraq by the first of the year.
The Revolution Starts…Now will be released Aug. 24 on Artemis Records.