August 1, 2003
Hardcore Troubadour: The Life and Near Death of Steve Earle
By Lauren St. John
A more accurate kicker for this book might be “The life and near deaths of Steve Earle,” because when it comes to second chances, Earle is one outlaw country cat who clearly has more than nine lives. Indeed, if there’s a Nashville rebel who has lived his own lyrics, it’s this guy. As this candid exposé reveals, some of the singer/songwriter/guitarist’s most powerful compositions— such as “The Week of Living Dangerously” (chronicling an over-the-border binge in Mexico) and “Devil’s Right Hand” (a tough story about pistols)—are significantly autobiographical, which is one reason why Earle is able to deliver his edgy songs with the unparalleled vivacity and raw conviction that has won him fans worldwide. In Earle’s case, art definitely imitates life.
Thankfully, it’s no longer the early- to mid-’90s, or this book would have a bleak, unresolved ending, because we’d still be in the middle of “Mr. Hardcore’s” darkest period—the lost years he spent mostly at seedy South Nashville intersections hawking guitars, scoring narcotics, and testing the limits of his health, marriages, and personal relationships. These chapters may also test the patience of even the most rabid Earle fans, because they veer far away from music and become exhausting lessons on the perils of drug addiction. Luckily, the rough diamond of Americana emerges from this black cloud, and as he regains his mojo, records a Grammy-nominated record, finally wins respect from Music Row and the Grand Ole Opry, and resumes his impassioned crusade against the death penalty, you’ll marvel at the sheer scope of his glorious redemption. Fourth Estate.