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WFUV Pop Quiz: Steve Earle

by Laura Fedele
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Laura Fedele

For more than three decades, Texas-born Steve Earle has been one of the most respected songwriters of country and folk music, first in Nashville and for the past few years in New York City, where he lives with his wife, Allison Moorer, and their son John Henry Earle. He's never been shy about expressing his opinions, so it was natural to ask him to take the WFUV Pop Quiz. True to form, his answers were anything but predictable.

Aside from gear, instruments, your band, you don't go on the road without…?

My computer.

You're an Apple-head right?

Oh yeah, absolutely. I mean, there's all kinds of other stuff, but a computer has got to go. At least some form a of a computer.

What song do you wish you had written and why?

Oh there's a bunch of songs I wish I had written. Let's see, "If I Needed You" by Townes Van Zandt - just because it's so simple.

Who do you wish recorded one of your songs, dead or alive?

Townes. Guy Clark recorded one of my songs. Very, very big deal, you know, when one of your teachers records one of your songs.

What song would you sing in the shower but never in public?

Oh, I sing lots of songs in the shower but never in public. Probably "A Change is Gonna Come." Allison sings that song, and at a show she tried to get everyone to sing along with her. They didn't, and she didn't understand why, and on the bus I said, "Honey, you're one of about three people on the planet who can sing that song. They're not singing along because they can't." So that might be one that I would try to sing in the shower but never in public.

Do you remember the first album you bought?

Absolutely. Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, the first one I bought with my own money. I had a lot of hand-me-downs from my uncle before that, but that was the very first one that I bought.

If someone finds your iPod and hits shuffle, is there a certain song you hope doesn't come up?

You know, I don't have any shame about that when it gets right down to it. The stuff that might surprise people is that you might find Hanson on my iPod and Fine Young Cannibals. There's a lot of pop music like that that I really, really love. I think "MmmBop" is a masterpiece. I think it's a great pop record. I think it was on the very first iPod I ever owned.

What's your favorite Dylan song?

"She Belongs to Me."

Actually a couple of your love songs recently have that feel to me.

Yeah, he was really good with that when he finally caught the wave. It begins with love songs that maybe quite weren't really love songs but personal songs, like, "Positively 4th Street"- you know, that kind of stuff. If you asked me on another day, I might have said "If You See Her Say Hello." Those are my favorite Dylan songs.

What job would you have if you weren't a musician?

Well, I might just write books. I didn't think I could do it because I had an 8th grade education. I finally in my 40s starting doing it, and I probably could make a living out of the thing.

Do you have any hidden talents?

Probably not. All the stuff I'm good at, I kind of do pretty publicly. I paint, but it's really more therapeutic than anything else. I haven't done it in a while. It was mainly Terry Allen that got me into it. He asked me what I been doing, and I said all the books are getting ready to come out and the records coming and he said, "Cool man. Don't you do any visual arts?" I started painting the next day.

Do you cook?

I do, but I'm not allowed to very often, because I wreck the entire kitchen. I cook mostly manly stuff. I actually attempted and pulled off a cassoulet last year, so I do cook.

Do you have a signature dish?

Chili. A really good Texas chili with no beans in it.

What's the biggest misconception that your fans or media have about you?

I don't think my real fans have any misconceptions about me. I think our relationship is pretty wide open, and I think there might be just be fans of "Guitar Town" or "Copperhead Road," but the people that have stayed with me through the whole thing - I'm really proud of them, because they let me be me and I let them be them, and it's an audience that's really stuck with me. In general, there might be an idea that I'm narrower in my focus than I am, that I'm harder to get along with than I am. I will say stuff that maybe other people won't say in a given situation, but for the most part I'm pretty approachable. Occasionally I realize I have trouble communicating with people because they're afraid of me and I don't understand that.

And the last one, what wacky thing would you do if you had the time, the guts, or money?

The Orient Express. Just go to Istanbul on the Orient Express.

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