31 flavors: a man and his many missions

1. Steve Earle hasn’t invaded Asheville — it’ll just seem like that over the next couple of weeks.

2. On Thursday, Nov. 6, Steve Earle will appear at The Orange Peel in Asheville with the current version of his longstanding band, The Dukes — guitarist Eric “Roscoe” Ambel, bassist Kelly Looney and former dBs drummer Will Rigby (opening act Garrison Starr will contribute harmony vocals).

The next week, Just an American Boy, a new documentary/concert film featuring Earle, will debut at The Fine Arts Theatre (Friday, Nov. 14).

3. A two-CD companion to the Just an American Boy film was released on Artemis Records on Sept. 9, and relies heavily on Earle’s last studio album, Jerusalem, his most openly political work to date.

4. The title of both the film and “audio documentary” comes from the opening line of Earle’s controversial “John Walker’s Blues” — “I’m just an American boy/ raised on MTV.”

5. The Steve Earle who’ll be appearing at The Orange Peel will bear little resemblance to the man in the documentary. He has lost approximately 100 pounds on the Atkins Diet since filming. Think gaunt on the scale of Billy Bob Thornton in the actor’s Angelina Jolie phase.

6. Likely covers at The Orange Peel show will include Nirvana’s “Breed,” The Chambers Brothers’ “Time Has Come Today,” The Youngbloods’ “Get Together” and Nick Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding.”

7. Earle’s Asheville show with The Dukes will be his next-to-last full-band show until well into 2004.

8. At his Sunday, Oct. 26 show at Irving Plaza in New York City, Earle debuted the song “Revolution Starts Now.” Ask nicely and he may play it for you.

9. Though born in Virginia, the first dirt to touch Steve Earle’s feet came from Texas, in a vial sent by family for the occasion. Earle’s eldest son, Justin, born in Tennessee, went through a similar procedure. Justin’s song “Time You Waste” closes the American Boy CD.

10. Steve Earle released his first major-label album, Guitar Town, in 1986. Dwight Yoakam and Lyle Lovett released their first albums that same year. The three artists were lumped together as a supposed neo-traditionalist movement that was supposed to “take back” country music. Didn’t happen.

11. Guitar Town was re-issued as an MCA Classic in 2002. The re-issue features new liner notes by Earle, as well as a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “State Trooper.”

12. Steve Earle once called “State Trooper” “the scariest f••king song I’ve ever heard.”

13. Earle and co-producer Ray Kennedy worked on Lucinda Williams’ Grammy-winning Car Wheels on a Gravel Road album before being replaced by Springsteen keyboardist Roy Bittan.

14. Bruce Springsteen joined Steve Earle and The Dukes for a six-song encore on Feb. 6, 1998. The mini-set included Earle’s “Guitar Town” and “I Ain’t Ever Satisfied,” as well as Rolling Stones covers “Sweet Virginia” and “Dead Flowers.” A bootleg of this performance exists.

15. While Springsteen once jumped the fence at Graceland, only to be escorted out by a security guard, Steve Earle once detoured to Lawrence, Kan. — where he was met at William S. Burroughs’ front door by the author himself (he unceremoniously told Earle to “f••k off”).

16. Earle once had a prescription filled by Dr. George Nichopolous, aka Dr. Nick, Elvis’ personal physician.

17. A full-time commitment to drug addiction and incarceration kept Earle out of the studio for four-and-a-half years.

18. Steve Earle is a longtime opponent of the death penalty.

19. He has been in conscious opposition since seeing the film In Cold Blood. Earle once told The Nation that the most affecting scene was when Robert Blake’s character, Perry Smith, is “harnessed to be hanged. And there’s an argument about whether to let him go to the bathroom. And a guard says, ‘Don’t worry about messing yourself; everyone does it.'”

20. On Oct. 10, 1998, Earle witnessed the execution of Jonathan Nobles, a Texas Death Row inmate with whom he had corresponded. Transcendental Blues’ “Over Yonder (Jonathan’s Song)” is written from Nobles’ point-of-view.

21. The Hard Way’s “Billy Austin” is also written from the perspective of a Death Row inmate.

22. “Ellis Unit One,” written for the movie Dead Man Walking and collected on the 2002 compilation Sidetracks, views the execution process from the eyes of a prison worker.

23. Earle has recently founded a theater company and written and produced a play about Karla Faye Tucker, the first woman put to death in a Texas prison.

24. In the summer of 2001, Houghton Mifflin published Earle’s Doghouse Roses, a collection of short stories.

25. Earle is the subject of a full biography, Lauren St. John’s Hardcore Troubadour: The Life and Near Death of Steve Earle, released in February of this year.

26. He’s been working on a novel, tentatively titled I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive.

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