Steve Earle & The Dukes at Kool Haus (132 Queen's Quay East), Friday (May 16). $35. 416-870-8000.
Jerusalem, Steve Earle's sixth album in six years, is essentially a rock record, and an unabashedly political one."It deals with really big, huge historical themes," he says from a Florida hotel room. "The biggest revelation for me was how ignorant Americans are of Islam, which I think may be dangerous. Christians don't know that Christians, Muslims and Jews all worship the same god."
But it's not all about ignorance and holy wars.
Earle says the R&B-inflected Conspiracy Theory, featuring Siobhan Maher-Kennedy on vocals, deals with the idea that what we're handed by the media isn't always the truth.
"That's never been more true than it is today."
He plays the Kool Haus tomorrow night and on June 7 will be the keynote speaker at the North By Northeast Music And Film Festival And Conference. The festival marks the world premiere of Just An American Boy, a documentary portrait of Earle by Amos Poe.
The idea for the film came from Danny Goldberg, owner of Earle's label, Artemis Records, because of the controversy surrounding Earle's song John Walker's Blues. The ballad is written from the point of view of John Walker Lindh, the captured American Taliban member. Speaking in Lindh's voice, Earle attempts to put a human face on the "enemy."
It's not one of those cheap attacks on Americans, America and all it stands for. Earle is simply acknowledging Lindh's humanity while not condoning his actions.
The world, however, is full of dim bulbs, some of whom get jobs at newspapers. Hence, such headlines as the New York Post's "Twisted Ballad Honors Tali Rat" and articles denouncing Earle as a traitor.
"We began by documenting the controversy," Earle says of the movie, which from there spans the period from October 2002 to February 2003, capturing Earle's relationships with his family, crew and fans, intermingled with the politics of the period and media perceptions south of the border. It also features a 15-song mix of rock and bluegrass hits, including Copperhead Road, Guitar Town and The Mountain. Earle himself has yet to see the final cut.
He may be known for being outspoken, but he hasn't yet clicked into his keynote speaker role.
"I can't tell you what I'm going to say, because I haven't written it yet," he says. "Being a keynote speaker is something I really try to avoid, and here I've gotten talked into it for a second time. To me, the keynote speaker was always someone who talked while everyone was busy trying to get enough coffee into their systems after getting drunk the night before."
He does, however, promise that he plays John Walker's Blues at all his gigs.
"People seem to react to it. It's the highlight of the set. My fans, even when they don't agree with me, have a pretty good idea of how the Constitution works and how the First Amendment goes."
The negative reaction, he says, comes from expected sources, "like Fox News and the New York Post. Equating that with political discussion is like thinking pro wrestling is real."