Steve Earle's new album isn't even out yet, and already it's stirring up controversy. Mainly because of the inclusion of the song "John Walker's Blues" which takes a not-unsympathetic look at John Walker Lindh, the so-called American Taliban. The song is featured on Earle's forthcoming album "Jerusalem," which touches on a number of political and social issues including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The news agency Reuters ran a reactionary article on the song recently, saying that it compares Lindh to Jesus Christ and quoting several musical bigwigs who have nothing nice to say about this song (which most of them haven't even heard yet).
Nashville talk show host Steve Gill's reaction was typical: "This puts him in the same category as Jane Fonda and John Walker and all those people who hate America. We'll give it airplay once, and then it's going into the dustbin of history, where it belongs. I'm going to play it just once, and then we'll rip the shred out of it."
Toby and Steve are big boys, and I'm sure they don't need little ol' me to stick up for them. But I don't think we ought to "rip the shred" out of either man's songs (whatever "rip the shred" means.) If you don't care for a song's political, spiritual or sociological message, that's good. Art is supposed to challenge our preconceptions. It doesn't have to change your views. (In fact, if your views can be swayed by a country song, you probably lack the courage of your convictions.)
But if you listen carefully to somebody who disagrees with you, you can gain a better perspective on the issue. If nothing else it may help you articulate why you feel the way you do. So, we should not only tolerate songs that appall us, we should celebrate them.
So come on, Peter Jennings, come on, Steve Gill. Come on, everybody who wants to silence everyone with an opinion contrary to yours. Let's all get appalled. It'll be fun.