etting your head around Steve Earle can be likened to that old story about the blind men and the elephant: Who he is at any given moment depends entirely upon your particular perspective.
Sure, he's best known for consistently creating groundbreaking country rock music, but Earle also has wrote a book of short stories, crafted a play, is hosting his own radio show and just started work on a novel.
His new album (remember, music is still something he leaves time for) is titled "The Revolution Starts...Now," and it is - just in time for the election - a politically motivated release. Always seemingly where the action is, Earle called from New York City for this interview.
"I'm kind of camped out here for a month," he explains. "The record's out, and I had to do a bunch of press anyway, and I wanted to get into town before the convention started because they're not going to let pinkos in here in a couple of days."
Earle jokingly calls himself a pinko since his political viewpoint is significantly to the left of fellow Texas native, George W. Bush. Still, one has to wonder just what Earle means by this revolution referred to in his album's title.
"The Revolution Starts...Now" meaning when we wake up and realize that it's always going on and when we involve ourselves again," Earle elaborates. "I don't like the way the country's going. And I think the country's going in a fundamentally different direction than it was when I was growing up. But I don't think it's because of them - because of the people that think differently than I do. I think it's because the people that think like I do went to sleep. And I just think that's a part of our democracy. We sort of surrendered the playing field. So I blame that on us, not them."
He agrees with the statement that Democratic Party is not as vigilant as it ought to be. But it's also worth noting that keeping the Democratic Party unified is a difficult task in Earle's view.
"There's always been a fundamental difference between Democrats and Republicans, in that the Republican Party runs more on ideology, more on a central ideology. The Democrats were always a big, messy coalition of people that covered a lot more ground, which made them less competitive, and they started acting more like Republicans. I voted for Clinton twice, which is the only Republican I've ever voted for," he says laughing.
"For me," he continues, "(Sen. John) Kerry's much more of a real Democrat than Bill Clinton ever thought about being. So I'm more comfortable with Kerry than I ever was with Clinton."
"The Revolution," with its social and political overtones, is certainly a forward-looking album. Nevertheless, Earle has dedicated it to two iconic musical figures that recently passed on: Johnny Cash and Warren Zevon.
"Yeah, we lost them kind of within weeks of each other," Earle notes sadly. "So that was kind of a rough couple of months there. I knew Warren casually because we were on the same label (Artemis). But I was a huge fan. Cash was the godfather of all of us in Nashville that make music that's about anything. And he was incredibly generous to me and incredibly nice to me. And I got to work with him. He recorded one of my songs on his very last record. I have a hard time still, imagining what the world is like without Johnny Cash in it. I still can't get my head around it."
"Johnny's Cash's television show in '68 was the first time I realized I wasn't all that weird 'cause I had long hair and cowboy boots. The first time Bob Dylan was ever on TV was on that show. He had Neil Young on that show and Linda Ronstadt. It was a great music show.
"It's no coincidence that songs such as "Rich Man's War" from the new album have an uncanny resemblance to the more political work of Creedence Clearwater Revival. Like that influential band, Earle is also adept at writing from the 'everyman' perspective.
"I grew up when CCR was the greatest American singles band," Earle recalls with delight. "Fantasy (Records) signed CCR thinking they were signing a psychedelic band and what they ended up with was the greatest singles band in American history. Growing up where I grew up, all bands played Creedence songs. Rock cover bands played Creedence songs, and country cover bands played Creedence songs. It crossed all lines, even then. Every country band in San Antonio did 'Proud Mary' and 'Bad Moon Rising,' which I think is kind of funny because 'Bad Moon Rising' is my favorite John Fogerty lyric. And it's a scary song. It's about the end of the world. And that's what we were faced with every day in those days - the end of the world."
While in New York, Earle was hoping to catch a few ballgames featuring his beloved Yankees.
"I'll be 50 in January, and baseball didn't come to Texas until 1962," says Earle. "The game of the week was the Yankees or the Dodgers. That was the baseball you got on television. And plus my grandfather had lived in New York right after he got out of the army, and he grudgingly came back to Jacksonville, Texas when his father died, when he had to take over the family hardware store. So I got my first transistor radio for the 1961 World Series. It was my first year in school, and that was the only time you could carry radio to school. So my grandfather made sure I had a radio so I could listen to the series. I've been a Yankees fan ever since."