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Steve Earle

DOGHOUSE ROSES  •  Steve Earle

A provocative collection from a renegade of letters. I confess that I have thought, even said, that I found this artist to be so ghermed and glorified that I thought him overrated, that the momentum of his myth exceeded his actual output. The power of momentum is no less mysterious in the arts than it is in sport, the 10th player on the diamond or the the sixth in a stage quintet. Even his Recovery was infinitely more interesting than Aerosmith's, somehow. That was a big part of the myth and its momentum, the redeemed outlaw. But why was it more interesting?

Maybe because Steve Earle is about so many things that make one sit up and take notice of the man. His relentless protest in word and deed of the death penalty and the crisis of landmines in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam that are still maiming and killing innocent farmers and their children every day. He gives of his time and energy to various community causes, local and beyond.

After reading Doghouse Roses, I don't think he's overrated anymore. This collection of penetrating portraits is pretty fantastic. Not only is the writing superb and engaging, the characters and the yarns are who and what I want to hear. Smugglers, addicts, rogue soldiers and wanderers, the underbelly of the music business, twisted love, Mexico -- all my favorite stuff.

The author didn't have to do erudite or esoteric research to lend feeling or depth to most of these colorful and moving tales of fringe dwellers and outcasts. He's lived it. I've read lots of accounts of dope users where I can tell the writer had never really been there, Jack. But there were two stories that really amazed me, which felt like pure inventions of a budding major prose writer. The Witness concerned a man gone to watch the execution of the immigrant gardener that murdered his wife. The Reunion portrayed a North Vietnamese officer called back from a rare leave with his aging wife to deal with an American, an agent orange victim who will not leave his hotel in Ho Chi Minh City, where he has gone to die. These two in particular had the ring of greatness that makes me look forward to a novel from this writer.

It's time to pull out the CDs I have and listen to them again, and pick up the ones I'm missing. I hope we'll be fortunate enough to get an interview with the artist in the Fall, we will try.  • FG

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