During wartime–and, officially, it’s still wartime–the super-patriots are ever more watchful for acts of cultural treason. And the latest victim of the red-white-and-blue lynch mob is musician Steve Earle, whose offense is writing and recording a song entitled “John Walker’s Blues.” Before the tune was released, the cowpies were being hurled. First, Steve Gill, a conservative talk-show gabber in Nashville, denounced the song. Then Fox News Channel and The New York Post picked up the story. The website of the latter headlined its dispatch, “Twisted Ballad Honors Tali-Rat” and claimed “American Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh is glorified and called Jesus-like in a country-rock song…by maverick singer-songwriter Steve Earle.” Another Nashville DJ, Phil Valentine, called the song “politically insane.” Gill declared, “This puts [Earle] in the same category as Jane Fonda and John Walker and all those people who hate America.”
Wire services and The Washington Post covered the fuss, with the Post‘s Richard Harrington, usually a fine music critic, reporting the “song offers a sympathetic view of Lindh.” Reuters echoed this sentiment: “It offers a rare sympathetic view of Lindh.” The New York Post noted that the ballad is “backed by the chanting of Arabic prayers and praises Allah.” While the phones went berserk at the Nashville office of Earle’s manager, Earle was on vacation in Europe and declined to respond to the attacks.
The to-do says more about Earle’s detractors than his song. The track, which is part of Earle’s forthcoming album, Jerusalem, hardly glorifies Lindh. Nor does Earle compare him to Jesus. The tune is “sympathetic” only in the sense it seeks to understand how Lindh viewed himself. It praises neither Lindh nor his choices. It does not recommend that others emulate him. The anti-Earle criticism shows that those eager to root out traitors often don’t have time to think. Here are the complete lyrics to “John Walker’s Blues”:
I’m just an American boy–raised on MTV/And I’ve seen all those kids in the soda pop ads/But none of ’em looked like me/So I started lookin’ around for a light out of the dim/And the first thing I heard that made sense was the word/Of Mohammed, peace be upon him
A shadu la ilaha illa Allah/There is no God but God
If my daddy could see me now–chains around my feet/He don’t understand that sometimes a man/Just has to fight for what he believes/And I believe God is great/All praise due to him/And if I should die I’ll rise up to the sky/Just like Jesus, peace be upon him
We came to fight the Jihad/ And our hearts were pure and strong/As death filled the air we all offered up prayers/And prepared for our martyrdom/But Allah had some other plan/Some secret not revealed/Now they’re draggin’ me back with my head in a sack/To the land of the infidel.