New Steve Earle Song Stirs Debate

A new tune about so-called "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh by Nashville singer/songwriter Steve Earle has kicked up a fight between critics who feel he's unpatriotic and defenders who consider hi

A new tune about so-called "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh by Nashville singer/songwriter Steve Earle has kicked up a fight between critics who feel he's unpatriotic and defenders who consider him provocative. The song, "John Walker's Blues," is not due for release until Sept. 24 on Earle's Artemis album "Jerusalem." It describes Lindh as "an American boy raised on MTV" who sought out another culture because he felt alienated from his native country.

"If my daddy could see me now / chains around my feet / He don't understand that sometimes a man / Has to fight for what he believes," Earle sings.

Lindh, a 21-year-old Californian captured by U.S. forces in Afghanistan, pleaded guilty this month to fighting alongside the Taliban militia. In return, prosecutors dropped the most serious charges against him, saving him from a possible death sentence. He is expected to be sentenced in October to 20 years in prison.

In a story Sunday, the New York Post charged that the song glorifies Lindh. Nashville radio personality Steve Gill said on CNN yesterday (July 23) that Earle was trying "to be outrageous to attract attention."

"We're within a one-year period of the attacks on America, and I think it's too early for a song like this," Gill said. "He is free to put this song out there, and the American people are free to say 'No thank you' when it comes to buying it."

"John Walker's Blues" represents a change in the popular music world in how it responds to the war on terrorism. Until now, most offerings have been stirring calls to arms -- "Freedom" by Paul McCartney, "Courtesy of the Red, White & Blue (The Angry American)" by Toby Keith -- with Alan Jackson's "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)" a doleful, reflective alternative.

Bruce Springsteen's Columbia album, "The Rising," due July 30, is suffused with stories about the aftermath of Sept. 11. Yet it also contains a song, "Paradise," written in part from a suicide bomber's perspective.

Earle was vacationing in Ireland and unavailable for comment. In publicity materials to promote "Jerusalem," he discusses his motivation for "John Walker's Blues," mentioning he has a young adult son. "I'm trying to make clear that wherever [Lindh] got to, he didn't arrive there in a vacuum," Earle said. "I don't condone what he did ... My son Justin is almost exactly Walker's age.

"Would I be upset if he suddenly turned up fighting for the Islamic Jihad? Sure, absolutely. Fundamentalism, as practiced by the Taliban, is the enemy of real thought, and religion too. But there are circumstances ... He was a smart kid, he graduated from high school early, the culture here didn't impress him, so he went out looking for something to believe in."

Artemis chairman Danny Goldberg cited songs by Johnny Cash ("Folsom Prison Blues"), Lloyd Price ("Stagger Lee"), and Springsteen ("Nebraska") as examples of great art about controversial topics or people. "It would be a pretty shallow culture if songwriters only wrote about nice people," he said.


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