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Hardcore Troubadour

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About the Author

Lauren St John is a biographer and music writer for many publications including the Independent and the Sunday Times. Her previous book, WALKING AFTER MIDNIGHT was published by Picador in 2000.


Acclaimed singer/songwriter Earle granted St. John, a frequent contributor to the London Sunday Times, unrestricted access to write this unfliching portrait. Drawing on interviews with Earle as well as his friends and family (including six ex-wives), she traces the songwriter's life in gritty detail, from his childhood in rural Texas through his addictions, arrests, and breakups to his most recent triumphs. St. John also chronicles Earle's diverse musical influences, which range from Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark to Gram Parsons and Bruce Springsteen. When Earle's debut, Guitar Town, was released in 1986, he achieved success by reviving the pure sounds of legendary country musicians and combining it with the bluesy strains of rockabilly. Not long after the album's release, though, Earle began his slow descent into an inferno of drug abuse that nearly ended his life. After a four-year rut, Earle came roaring back to life with two flawless albums: El Corazon (1997) and Transcendental Blues (2000). On one hand, this first full-length portrait doesn't break any ground-the sordid aspects of Earle's life were already well documented. On the other, however, by using Earle's own words, St. John brings us closer to her subject's intimate relationship to music, which often gets overshadowed in the press. Ultimately, Earle emerges as a guy who wants to make damn good music. Recommended for all collections.-Henry L. Carrigan Jr., Lancaster, PA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

"Could be I'm just some Big City sucker for a hard-rocking, Nietzsche-reading, Che Guevara-quoting redneck country singer, but ... if Steve Earle isn't a Great American, he'll have to do until the real thing comes along."- Mark Jacobson, Men's Journal reviewing Steve Earle's bestselling story collection Doghouse Roses.

This biography of country rocker Earle begins with him skipping a 1992 meeting with record execs to sign a potentially career-reviving, multimillion-dollar record contract. Instead, he sold his airplane ticket for $100 and went to score crack in the slums of Nashville, beginning what Earle calls his four-year "vacation in the ghetto." It's a brilliant opening hook, and St. John (Walkin' After Midnight) never lets the reader go, breezily guiding through Earle's wild childhood (he dropped out of school after the eighth grade and was living on his own by 16), his five tumultuous marriages, his many run-ins with the law, his restless wanderings through the American South and Mexico-and a quarter-century of addiction to booze, cocaine and heroin that finally ended after some jail time in the mid-1990s. By talking to many of Earle's closest friends, family and former wives, St. John manages to demythologize a man whose life often threatens to overshadow his music (unfortunately, however, she herself doesn't spend much time on Earle's actual recordings). She interprets Earle's death wish simply as an attempt to break away from his middle-class upbringing. Like his literary heroes Hemingway and Kerouac, he courts disaster to fuel his writing. As St. John writes, "It was no accident that his life was a series of belief-beggaring dramas; quite often he was the cause of them. Consciously or unconsciously, he cultivated his own legend." Springsteen may have been the "consummate chronicler of welfare-line blues," she writes, "but Steve had lived the life." (Feb.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

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