The unmistakable voice of Steve Earle has been on our radios and televisions since the ’80s. His first album Guitar Town was released in 1986, and the rest makes for a very interesting story. Since then Earle has released thirteen studio albums and 6 live albums. He spent his early career as a song writer and even wrote a song for Elvis at one point, albeit it was never recorded. He has been married seven times, twice to the same woman. He developed an addiction to heroin and spent some time in jail on drug and gun charges before finally getting clean. He spans various music genres from folk and country to blues, bluegrass, rock and more. Whatever the genre, Steve Earle has nailed it. He enjoys literary pursuits and has written a play about Karla Faye Tucker, the first woman to be executed on death row since the American Civil War. He has also written a book of short stories and a book on the Japanese art of poetry Haiku and he’s in the middle of writing a novel.
Needless to say he’s enthusiastic about literature, so when the option came along to star in the Baltimore based police drama The Wire, he took it. “I had never really been all that interested in acting, I’d been offered stuff back in the ’80s, when I was a lot better lookin’ and never did it then. But by that time I had the theatre company in Nashville and I was more interested in acting, mainly as a playwright. It was a chance to go and say some really well written words and I thought it would help me as a writer. And it didn’t really require any acting because Walon is kinda me. The redneck recovering addict, I mean it doesn’t really require much! It’s not a big stretch for me”. Although saying this he wouldn’t venture back into theatre acting. “That’s frightening. I had one experience in live theatre as an actor, and it was before The Wire. It was a fundraiser for my own theatre company that I had in Nashville for several years. And it was like fuckin… you know I’d rather… you know. I think I’d volunteer for a suicide bomb before I’d do it again, it was frightening!”
According to Earle, outside of music, theatre suits his life more than being a novelist. He can finish a play in a couple of months whereas a novel can take considerably longer and so he plans to continue his work as a playwright. “That’ll be the next thing… as soon as I’m finished this fucking novel that I’m almost done with. I’ll probably write plays.” His plays reflect his strong political beliefs. Currently he’s working on a one man show about fellow political activist and world famous folk musician Pete Seeger called Dangerous Songs. He is also thinking about another one act play that takes place on the roof of a submerged house. Sounds like a Samuel Beckett play I said, which clearly pleased him. Earle believes that all modern playwrights have to feel the influence of Beckett. Maria Irene Forn’s started writing plays because she saw an original production of Godot in Paris, in French and that made her want to be a playwright. “I think Godot will be rewritten for at least a hundred years before anybody comes up with anything truly original and we can chance to move on”.
“Both The Abbey and Druid have set the bar so fucking high. I doubt very seriously if I would ever… I mean I’ll try! The next couple of things I write I’ll submit. I did submit Karla to Galway Arts and to The Abbey and so far nobody’s even made a noise about producing one of my plays in Ireland.” He admires our standards though “You’re dealing with a country where Seamus Heaney is in the fucking in-flight magazine of the national airline! I think you have an incredibly literate audience in Ireland when it comes to theatre. That’s the one thing I missed really badly when I’d come back to The States, during those winters that I spent out in Galway, was theatre. It’s one of the things I love about living in New York now, I get to see a lot of really, really good live theatre.”
He is politically active throughout his musical and theatrical careers, speaking boldly and openly about the death penalty and 9/11. He struck controversy in 2002 with the song John Walker’s Blues about the American Taliban fighter. He has affirmed that the song is meant in empathy as oppose to sympathy. “I have a son exactly the same age as John Walker Lindh, that’s why I wrote that song. I mean, nobody else was gonna write it and what they did to him is still really hard for me to live with as an American. He’s still in prison and he’s going to be in prison for… you know 17 years.”
Read Steve Earle: Part Two next week on meg.ie, where Steve talks about his relationship with Jonathan Wayne Nobles, Sharon Shannon, The Galway Girl and what he declares is his real claim to fame in Ireland.