Steve Earle – Jerusalem (2009)

by Mark Saleski

I know what I like, but you won’t find me setting any rules. This is as close to a “philosophy of music” as you’re going to get out of me. That idea has been the driving force behind most of the stuff I write about, especially when there’s “musical evangelism” involved. My ears take something in and they demand that other people at least consider the material. It seems like the right thing to do. Maybe even the only thing.

But that’s music. What about other topics? In the realm of politics and other social issues, I pretty much feel the same way. Sure, I have ideas as to what make sense to me, but the ‘rules’ are not set in stone. They just happen to work for me at this moment in time. At some point in the future, a change in perspective might come and I’ll think about this stuff differently. There’s a brand of person for whom this sort of malleable viewpoint is a major irritant. The label that gets flung around is “moral relativist.” Yeah, whatever. I mean, I hate to be so flippant about it, but when people toss around stereotypes without giving serious consideration to the reality of a situation, I can’t help but think less of them.

This happened when Steve Earle released Jerusalem. Despite a long history of musicians writing songs coming from the viewpoint of the villain (hello, country music!!), a bunch of people freaked out at Earle for “John Walker’s Blues,” the song about John Walker Lindh the “American Taliban.” It was like there was only one ‘acceptable’ take on that issue and any other was ‘anti-American.’ There were calls for the boycott of the album. This kind of thing happens in political ‘discussions’ all too frequently. A person has a certain set of views and a label must be immediately affixed: the conclusion has been arrived at and the debate has been canceled.

Whether it be politics or music (or politics and music, which some say shouldn’t mix), it would be a pretty boring world if we all agreed on everything based on a set of rules. There are a lot of viewpoints out there, so let’s toss them together and see what we come up with. You like something … or don’t? Let’s talk about “the why” of it. Forget “this is awesome” or “that sucks.” Can’t you do better than that?!

I’ll admit that I was attracted to this album because I’d heard both “Jerusalem” and “John Walker’s Blues,” but my favorite tune is “I Remember You.” It’s a song about looking back and wondering about a past relationship. The combination of Earle’s gruff voice and Emmylou Harris‘ gorgeous tones … well, it gets me every time.

There are all sorts of reasons for why we like or dislike a piece of music so let ‘em out. It’s the right thing to do.

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