Earle's "Blues" on Film

New documentary follows aftermath of controversial song

June 10, 2003 12:00 AM ET

Just An American Boy, a DVD documenting the period following Steve Earle's release of the controversial song "John Walker's Blues," will be released in September through Artemis/Koch. The film might also make a limited theater run.

Directed by Amos Poe (Frogs for Snakes, Dead Weekend), the film premiered in Toronto over the weekend. The idea for the documentary came from Artemis Records boss Danny Goldberg after "John Walker's Blues" leaked prior to the release of Earle's 2002 album, Jerusalem. Earle wrote the song from the perspective of the so-called "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh, or, as the singer states at one point in the film, "a twenty-year-old kid who hadn't eaten for a week."

"We were getting calls from hard news outlets, or as hard as news gets nowadays, people who don't normally talk to me or anybody else that makes records," says Earle. "There was just enough difference in the normal cycle of press around my records that Danny thought it would be interesting to document it."

They hired Poe, who had directed videos for Earle, including "Transcendental Blues" and "Over Yonder (Jonathan's Song)," the latter featuring photos of all the prisoners executed in Texas the past eight years. The filmmaker followed Earle around for five months off and on, beginning in the fall of 2002.

"It's not my statement. It's not my piece. Literally I was just there," says Earle. "The only thing that I would have changed about it -- and did change about it -- is one sequence that made my dog look like a rabid beast. I made Amos cut it out for slandering my dog. That was it."

Poe, who wanted to make a Don't Look Back-type portrait, insists Just An American Boy is not a political work. "I think what you see is how many different areas he's trying to engage reality in, in terms of the music, in terms of the playing, in terms of his personal life, in terms of the touring, all the different aspects," he says. "It's almost cubist, from different angles. I think of Steve as the most pro-American artist out there. He writes American songs, so his point of view you may not agree with, but it's certainly American."

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