Earle's “Blues” on Film - Rolling Stone
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Earle’s “Blues” on Film

New documentary follows aftermath of controversial song

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
), 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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