The venerable online music magazine Perfect Sound Forever ran an amazing piece this month called “Steve Earle: Sympathy For An American Terrorist,” which is an excerpt from Dorian Lynskey’s recent book “33 Revolutions Per Minute – A History of Protest Songs,” which has immediately risen to the top of my “have to read this RIGHT NOW” list. The excerpt profiles that dark period after the September 11th attacks which REM had referred to as “the Great Quiet,” when Clear Channel was creating lists of “lyrically questionable songs,” and the idea of being an American and writing any kind of controversial or “protesting” song seemed positively unpatriotic.
I published an essay of my own along these same lines, which is available to read at “No Depression,” the Roots Music webzine.
Reading the Lynskey excerpt reminded me of a time in my musical exploration where I truly took that adage to heart. It’s not our job to be loved, it’s our job to be remembered. Since then I’ve appreciated artists who speak their mind regardless of the potential cost to their fan-bases. I respect musicians who are willing to say something because it needs to be said, not because it’s going to be a popular, money-making proposition.
I am nervous as we near the tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks. Though it’s a different climate now, where the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been dragging on for far too long and the American people are tiring of constant bloodshed and endless turmoil, it’s easy to fall back on the memories and take the wrong lessons from them. I’d like to remember that, in a time when people were told it was unpatriotic to have opinions which differed from the status quo, there were people like Steve Earle and James McMurtry who were willing to pick up the slack for all of us.
You can view a video of Steve Earle performing “John Walker’s Blues” below.