Interview With Steve Earle

Interview With Steve Earle

“Everybody thought everybody was fooling everybody. And both of us were probably right to a certain extent, everybody was fooling each of us.”

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Steve Earle & The Dukes released his new album Terraplane on February 17 via New West Records. The eleven-track set is the follow up to the 2013 album The Low Highway and features Earle’s longtime band The Dukes. It is Steve Earle’s sixteenth studio album since the release of his highly influential 1986 debut Guitar Town and is focused on the blues. I took the occasion to interview Earle at length about the album and his career, in both music and politics. We spoke in his manager’s office in New York City. Below is an edited (though still quite long) transcript of our talk, expertly taped and typed by Nation intern James Kelly.

Eric Alterman: Let’s start with the new album. Sorry, but what’s a “Terraplane?”

Steve Earle: A Terraplane’s a car. Three companies I know of make Terraplanes, the most popular one’s a Hudson Terraplane. They were popular with gangsters. John Dillinger rode an Essex Terraplane but that was a more expensive car. The original Hudson Terraplane, Terraplane means like airplane—Terraplane—it flies across the earth!

ALTERMAN: What are you saying by calling the album after that?

SE: There’s a Robert Johnson song called “Terraplane Blues” and he’s talking about sex, the car is a metaphor for something sexual. Terraplanes were like a deuce and a quarter. It was the idea of: it’s a songwriting recording, it’s a songwriting project like all my records are and it was like concentrating on, to me, the reason Robert Johnson is Robert Johnson.

I like the idea of one word, I like the idea of something that was sort of a pretty, some sort of image that talked about this and why I wanted to make a blues record.

As far as we know, and it’s the beginning of recording so there wouldn’t be recordings that predated it, but there is tradition and people have done the research and I’ve done the research. There aren’t earlier versions of those Robert Johnson songs that anybody knows about, so as far as we know, the entire genre of the blues as we know it, every bit of it, is based on one Robert Johnson song or another, which is pretty mind-blowing when you think about it. There’s not one single thing that’s not really based on a Robert Johnson song. I mean the whole twelve-bar, sixteen-bar modern blues thing—it’s all based on Robert Johnson.

ALTERMAN: That’s quite a claim, I’m not in a position to challenge it, but who else would you say contributed fundamentally to the genre.

SE: Nobody wrote any songs, everybody just repackaged Robert Johnson songs and used verses from Robert Johnson songs and took one verse from one Robert Johnson song and on verse from another Robert Johnson song or a Hillbilly song they heard and took verses from that. The verses are interchangeable in a lot of Appalachian stuff and a lot of blues stuff and some of it…

ALTERMAN: So you’re saying that everything out of Chess Records ultimately came from Robert Johnson?

SE: All of the forms, all of the chord progressions, all of the forms come from Robert Johnson and a lot of the lines. There’s three or four, Crossroads, Terraplane, they’re all basically the same form and they’re the standard thing and the shuffles are in that form. Some slow blues are in that form. Stormy Monday is really in that form with just some chords added to it and then there’s stuff like, Hot Tamales and Red Hots—that stuff get’s repeated in New Orleans over and over and over again by piano players because it lent itself to that. That may be him imitating somebody else that came before him because there’s guys at the turn of the century—that might be the one thing that’s not original. But I can’t find exactly that somewhere. People travelled up and down the river, that’s where black culture was. New Orleans is different though because Robert Johnson comes from a tradition that’s strictly oral and strictly playing by ear. Accuse a New Orleans musician, especially an African-American musician, you’ll piss them off faster than anything in the world because they’re very proud of how musically literate they are. People read charts. And everybody reminds you of it and it’s in the high school, in the junior high bands. That’s one of the things that’s changing in New Orleans and it’s a storm needs to be protected because it’ll die without it. But, it goes deeper than that. There were more literate people of color in New Orleans, than anyplace else in North America before the Louisiana Purchase and then we started systematically taking property and position away from those people. So we were left with the people who managed to hang on to something—they’re pretty literate. They learned to read and write and they stayed in school—even the gangsters.

ALTERMAN: Why this album now?

SE: I thought about it for a long time and sort of a perfect storm occurred. I’m going through a divorce…so that helps.

ALTERMAN: You’ve been divorced quite a few times though.

SE: I haven’t been divorced in a long time though. Look, all the other marriages were in the ’80s, I was on drugs, this is the first time I’ve ever been married sober, it lasted eight years and don’t even try to compare this to the other marriages because it’s not the same thing. Way more painful. Went through the whole marriage sober, went through the breakup sober, still going through the divorce sober; there’s no comparison. And it’s way longer. I had no intention, it wasn’t my idea so it’s just not the same thing…not the same person; completely different experience.

So all that stuff, plus having the guitar player that could do it. The electric stuff is more intimidating to me than the acoustic stuff. I did the acoustic blues thing, I’ve done it before. I know Jimmie Vaughan and I knew Stevie Vaughan and I know Charlie Musselwhite. I’m gonna run into those guys at the bar. Any time I’ve thought about doing this, any time I’ve even done it for a track, I think about it. I’m a very self-conscious harp player because I’m next door to Charlie Musselwhite at the East Coast Blues & Roots Festival in Australia every other year.

ALTERMAN: Do you think of this as a kind of divorce album?

SE: Part of it is. I mean it’s the album that went on during the divorce.

ALTERMAN: I’m a lover of divorce albums, Blood on the Tracks, Tunnel of Love, Shoot Out the Lights.” Were any of those in your head?

SE: No, but, it is what I was going through. There’s different ways to deal with the blues, there’s different ways to deal with pain. Sometimes it’s just to be completely and totally open to it. That’s what the song “My Old Friend the Blues” was about. Sometimes when you’re bummed out there’s nothing more irritating than somebody trying to cheer you up before you’re ready, but distraction does work sometimes. Bluster, ya know. “Ain’t Nobody’s Daddy Now” and “Better Off Alone” are the same person talking about the same experience, but one is more honest than the other one. It doesn’t mean it’s not the truth, it’s just because it’s not particularly honest. It’s just part of the deal, it’s the way human beings deal with shit like that.

ALTERMAN: You’re happy to talk about addiction right…

SE: Until I get tired of it. My patience for it is whatever the fuck it turns out to be.

ALTERMAN: Why were you an addict do you think?

SE: I think I was born an addict. It’s on both sides of my family. I don’t think I had a chance I think I was always an addict. From the time when I started using drugs, which was 11, they were always important to me, way more important to me than they should have been right up until I stopped doing them entirely, they were always more important than they should be. I smoked pot. People say marijuana is not addictive, well, me and my second wife almost killed each other whenever we ran out of pot. My experience is that marijuana leads to heroin. I have no other experience. I smoked my first joint when I was 11, and I shot my first shot of dope when I was 13.

ALTERMAN: 13?

SE: I just didn’t get strung out for a while because… well, I did get strung out but things distracted me from focusing…Opiates were always my favorite, but I kinda had an LSD habit. When I was taking acid I took it as much as I could, which wasn’t everyday because you can’t get off if you take it everyday.

ALTERMAN: Did that feel more like a need or a desire? Where you getting high because it was fun or were you getting high because you couldn’t get through the day if you didn’t get high.

SE: Both, but at the time I thought it was purely choice. But, looking back at it I used like an addict and when I drank I drank like an alcoholic.

ALTERMAN: But clearly you were fucking up your life at some point, I mean, you went to jail.

SE: I was but I lived in this world where it was harder to tell because I was successful at some things. I fucked up my first marriage and that was largely about drugs and alcohol. And I took up with somebody that could keep up with me and of course that ended the way that ends—we almost killed each other. Drugs were always part of the deal, that’s why I’m saying this marriage is completely different because I was sober.

ALTERMAN: You were young and you were in the music business—were drugs understood to be part of the deal?

SE: Yeah, but it was the ’60s so drugs were kind of part of the deal anyway. People were dropping like flies in my high school. I lost friends to either drug overdoses or car wrecks and it was about equal numbers in my high school and it was a fairly… I went to a high school where everybody was expected to go to college but not everybody there had any chance at going to college. There was no shop, there was none of that stuff because they thought it was a college preparatory high school in a college preparatory neighborhood, but the fact of the matter is there were a lot of poor kids, mostly Chicano, who were in my school, and they had access to drugs that we didn’t and we had money. Well I didn’t, but my friends did.

ALTERMAN: What town was this?

SE: San Antonio

ALTERMAN: Was Townes Van Zandt the first of your heroes you got to work with and became influenced by?

SE: He’s the first of my heroes that made records that I knew personally. I saw Townes’s records in a record store and they were right next to Dave Van Ronk’s records and whoever else’s last name started with a “V.” When I first heard a Townes Vant Zandt record I didn’t know any difference between Townes and Bob Dylan when it came right down to it. I mean, I knew who Bob Dylan was and I kind of never have not known who Bob Dylan was, but I didn’t see him [Townes] as being any less famous or less of a bigger deal than… I knew that he was from Texas… but I didn’t…

ALTERMAN: Was that the first person that you could use as a kind of model?

SE: Yeah, he was the first person that I knew and I tracked him down and I saw him on stage a couple of times.

ALTERMAN: Where and when did you track him down?

SE: Austin, Texas in 1972.

ALTERMAN: And you are how old?

SE: Pretty sure I was 17, I crashed Jerry Jeff Walker’s 33rd birthday party I think it was. And I just overhead where the party was gonna be—it was at Castle Creek in Austin and hitchhiked there and I convinced a girl that had a car that we were invited and went to the party.

ALTERMAN: Did you play for him the way it one sees it in the movies?

SE: No, no I was a complete voyeur at that thing. Never played a song, I was hoping that it would come up, that somebody would hand me a guitar. Mainly I was hoping somebody wouldn’t realize that I didn’t know anybody there and turn me out. And then Townes walked in in the middle of it and I had a feeling Townes would be there. He walked in wearing a jacket that Jerry Jeff had given him on his birthday and he lost it in a craps game and I started following him around.

ALTERMAN: How did you get your first record deal?

SE: My first record was a rockabilly record that was out on a label called LSI. I had a three-piece rockabilly band, it was 1982. So it took a while just to get that done and that was after being in town for a long time and coming very close to getting a record deal from the time I was 19 or 20 but it never happened. I had publishing deals, but no record deal. And then I just sort of hounded my publisher into letting me make a record because they were starting a label anyway to put out another artist that one of the two partners had produced on RCA and RCA had dropped the artist and he still believed in the artist and they got drunk and decided they were gonna be record moguls and start a label.

ALTERMAN: Were you in Texas or in Nashville?

SE: Nashville. I moved to Nashville when I was 19 and never went back to Texas.

ALTERMAN: So you made your living from publishing?

SE: A draw from a publishing company. It was $75 a week when it started, by the time the three years was over it was $150 a week, because that’s the way it was done then. We used to give up all of the publishing, which was half of the whole pie, and you got a very low draw.

ALTERMAN: Did you write songs that we know during that period?

SE: Well yeah, there’s a few things that were written because I didn’t record them until years later, when I made Guitar Town. The rockabilly thing got the attention of CBS records and I got signed to Epic and we released some of that stuff to singles and I made the rest of an album, but the album was never released because the singles didn’t get anywhere.

ALTERMAN: Did you make more money from other people recording your music or from the records you were making? I ask because I hear your songs all the time by other people.

SE: Yeah I know and I make money from it now, but back then I was a failure essentially as a staff songwriter. But there was no intention, none of us, me and Guy Clark, Guy was way more successful than I was but even he his intention was not to be a staff songwriter. We were all post-Kristoffersons so we all considered ourselves to be singer-songwriters. The business didn’t. The business thought they were smarter than we were and thought, “Well, we’ll put out these records and we won’t print very many copies and we’ll help you make it through the night every once in a while.” We thought we were fooling them into subsidizing us making records the way that we wanted to. Everybody thought everybody was fooling everybody. And both of us were probably right to a certain extent, everybody was fooling each of us.

ALTERMAN: So was Guitar Town a hit? Now, it seems like it was a hit, but…

SE: It was a number one country album. The first single which was “Hillbilly Highway,” went to like 32 or something. That’s the highest I’d ever been. The second single was “Guitar Town,” and it went to 8. The third single was “Someday,” and it went to like maybe 14 or 15 something like that. “Goodbye is All We Got Left,” went to like number 9 or something like that. There were two spotty, but there were two Top Ten singles and the record sold 350-360,000 copies, might have been 385… maybe it was 385. Which then was not nothing in country. That was before a lot of artists who sold millions of records in country. It was not nothing, nobody could ignore it, but when…

ALTERMAN:, I’m surprised that country radio would play it in those days. It’s not exactly George and Tammy

SE: Well George and Tammy were done. I wrote songs like George and Tammy and couldn’t get arrested. The big acts at that time were Reba MacEntire and acts like Dan Seals was pretty big. And then a couple of things happened. Tony Brown decided that the future of country music was singer-songwriters and he signed me, Lyle Lovett and Nanci Griffith all at the same time. We all came from Texas and we’re all on MCA. Journalists on the rock and roll side of things, decided there was such a thing as new traditionalist country, which was country music they liked better than most of what had been going on since the outlaw thing had sort of fizzled out. I really was more connected to that than I was anything else. That’s really who my crowd was when I first got to town. I knew I wasn’t a new traditionalist. I know I was really a folk singer, but I was intentionally trying, I really thought I could save country music. I thought not me but I could be part of something that did.

But then, immediately with my second record I started getting pressure from the label as in “Okay, we’re gonna send you some songs now.” I said “I’ve already written my second record.” It was like, I wasn’t going with the program. It was like the thing in Jamaica where the big Rasta has the big bag of buds and tells ya to “hold the dope, mon,” and you hold his dope and he comes back and asks for the money.I actually made the mistake, I put the dope up—I had plenty of dope. I didn’t need this dope. And I tried to give it back to him and a big fucking incident occurred because I wasn’t going with the program. You’re supposed to be afraid of the Rasta with the machete and give him the money. I knew that they weren’t going to work my second record no matter what I did and what I turned in. So I made the record I wanted to as much as I could at the time. I only had so much control over it because I didn’t really know anything about recording. The drums were really loud, but I did that on purpose, it was the ’80s and everybody wanted loud. I’ve had it blamed on me that the drums are so loud on country records and I’m probably guilty. I think Guitar Town was the first country record with a mix like that.

ALTERMAN: Were your politics part of your career from the beginning?

SE: Sure. I’m a post–Bob Dylan songwriter in general, I’m a post–Kris Kristofferson songwriter in Nashville. I got there when I was still a teenager and the songs I grew up listening to you wrote about whatever was happening to you and tried to understand what was happening to you through making whatever art you were making. I saw it as art. I saw it as a form of literature. I didn’t know any other way to do it. I never ever wondered what the kids were diggin’. I did it as well as I could at the time. “Good Ol’ Boy (Gettin’ Tough)” is a pretty political song, but people misconstrued it. There was a guy…. writing for the Boston Phoenix at the time… Jimmy Gutterman! The only bad review I ever read of Guitar Town was by Jimmy Gutterman and it was a scathing review of what he thought to be my politics. He thought I was like Kid Rock crossed with Hank Williams Jr. or something and he just didn’t understand that I created a character.

ALTERMAN: That’s a problem that’s followed you.

SE: Yeah, it happens once in a while. Sometimes I wonder, “Well maybe I didn’t do my job,” but I think it’s just the inherent risk when you create a character.

ALTERMAN: What do you think the relationship is between music and politics?

SE: I think music can change the world and I think that because of my age. I think the best political songs—Bob Dylan’s political songs are better than Phil Ochs political songs because Phil Ochs wasn’t as good a songwriter as Bob Dylan and Phil was motivated by politics primarily I think. Bob sort of famously dismissed it as journalism

ALTERMAN: Well there are two questions embedded in my question. One, is politics good for art? And the second question is, if you go to a rally and you get all excited and get your fist up in the air does that actually lead to better things happening? Is rock and roll a force for generating resistance and possibly a better world?

SE: Yes and the deal is, it’s only the “maturity” of the music business that sort of came up with the idea that there was something inherently uncommercial and inherently something to be avoided about writing those kinds of songs. People ask “Why was there not more resistance to the Iraq war?” Because there was no fucking draft, because most people weren’t at risk of fucking going. If you weren’t poor and already unemployed and living on the margins of the society to begin with, you really weren’t in any danger. And we were creating more underclass every second, so they didn’t worry about a draft, they didn’t need it.

ALTERMAN: Is the raising of money through music what is most useful?

SE: That’s deceptive. I’ve worked with a lot of not-for-profits and the land-mine being the biggest and most successful. Concerts with rock stars are a really inefficient money raiser because rock stars are rock stars and it costs a certain amount to… Some people don’t behave any differently when they’re playing a benefit than they do… They want the same fucking things in the dressing room, they want things to work the same way, the production values are the same. So, people that know what they’re doing use the concerts to raise awareness and then they do other things to raise money.

The way we raise money is me and Emmylou [Harris] would go to a rich person’s house and invite 35 or people who had a lot of money and they’d write big fucking checks and that’s where the real money—and no overhead.

ALTERMAN: That makes sense to me but I do question the idea of raising consciousness through these concerts and so forth. I think a song can do it but I think that people who go to concerts for causes, they’re at the concert. Live Aid I don’t think a lot, either Live Aid, did a lot for starving people in Africa, with the exception that maybe a little bit of money was raised, well they didn’t even try to raise that much money.

SE: I don’t know. I don’t think anybody at all was even aware or gave a fuck that there was anybody was starving in Africa before Live Aid. I think there’s bound to have been people that heard that and saw that and saw those pictures of those kids and some of them wrote other songs, some of them became doctors instead of setting themselves up to get rich as doctors got on the fucking airplane and went to Africa and treated people I think that’s what it does. The answer to the question “can music change a thing,” yes. Music helped end the Vietnam War but it still took 10 years. It’s the generation of people that begins with “Blowing in the Wind,” and it goes all the way to by the time it was. By the time the war ended, there weren’t that many protest songs. There were some but it was starting to thin out. You have to understand, big events do more than you think. The whole music business as we know it is sort of an anomaly because that happened because—The biggest selling LP on a major label in 1964 was My Fair Lady… that’s what LP’s were. Sgt Pepper happened and so that kind of changed the idea of what an album could be and there were a lot of albums but the record labels still were rudderless when it came to promoting that kind of stuff. When they got it, it was Woodstock. When they saw 400,000 people and it was just an anomaly, an accident and a mess but a lot of people from New York were there. It took 400,00 people for them to finally accept that there was a market for this music which was long form and some it conceptual, some of it based on the blues, some of it based on jazz, it was all over the map and really eclectic. Mitch Miller didn’t know how to do that so they had to let the lunatics run the asylum for a few years. The golden era is, there are some amazing records that were made between 1967 and the early 70s when finally the corporate, the people that were just running the corporations got control over the ship again to some degree.

ALTERMAN: What do you think of as the most successful political songs?

SE: I think “Blowing in the Wind,” is way up there. It’s an overt anti-war statement right as we were getting into the Vietnam War. When we were just getting into it, some people were just figuring it out what Vietnam was.. The Peter, Paul and Mary version, which I thought was the coolest things because I love Peter, Paul and Mary records. They’re not watered down or anything, they’re just their versions of those songs and they prove that he was important, that he was important as a songwriter. His manager knew that and his manager knew that you have a copyright that’s why he was able to make a living even though he wasn’t selling that many records.

You have the other phenomena now, that rock and roll becomes art because of folk music. I don’t think without Bob Dylan wanting to be John Lennon and John Lennon wanting to be Bob Dylan I think rock and roll is just loud pop music. Sociologist don’t talk about it and academics don’t study it because it was really… You know why Led Zeppelin wasn’t hip back then was the fact that guys who felt guilty because they weren’t writing about jazz didn’t want to be identified with a band or support a band that appealed to 14 year old boys.

ALTERMAN: One of my great regrets in life is having been too cool at 14 to see Led Zeppelin.

SE: Well, not me man. I’m pretty positive I had sex for the first time to a Led Zeppelin tune. I was the target audience, I was 14 years old when Led Zeppelin II came out. I was in a blues band when the first Led Zeppelin came out and we played half the record. I couldn’t sing it but we tried.

ALTERMAN: Well, I was 15 when Born to Run came out, so I had that. I wanted to ask you about Bruce. Were you surprised by the political turn Springsteen took in the eighties?

SE: No, it was always there. Guitar Town is a direct result of me going to see the Born in the USA tour and going home and writing Guitar Town the next day. That’s when I got it. I wanted to figure out myself, how to find my voice as an artist. All the records up before The River are Bruce trying to find his found and what happens on The River is Bruce finds ours. He figures out that it’s a worthwhile thing to do to try to give somebody else a voice. You have to make a conscious decision to do that. You gotta be brave to do it or stupid depending on how you look at it… And there are two ways to lend a voice. There’s assuming a character like “John Walker’s Blues.” John Walker is the character. The person singing the song isn’t John Walker Lindh, I didn’t know John Walker Lindh. The person singing the song is me but I’m taking on that character because the way that I related to it was I have a son exactly the same age as John Walker Lindh. He’s Justin’s age—they’re exactly the same age. And I saw that kid duct taped to that board and I saw Justin. My first thought, my very first thought wasn’t “That motherfucker,” my very first thought was—and that was everyone’s first thought that I knew—it was that people were… It wasn’t in Iraq and this was in Afghanistan in area where we were reasonably sure that some of the people that were responsible for 9/11 actually were. It’s the only part of what we did that you could come close to justifying. It was in that action that John Walker Lindh was picked up. But I just knew that nobody else would do it and my first thought was “God he’s got parents and they must be sick.” So that’s who I wanted to give a voice to was John Walker Lindht’s parents.

ALTERMAN: Do you think that at the level that Springsteen is at—he’s like Mr. America—that he has to make compromises about the voices he gives and how far he goes?

SE: I don’t think he does. I think he does whatever the fuck he wants to and I’ve admired him for that. It’s cost him audience, he coined that term, spending political capital..during that election cycle. Other people did it before him. Kris Kristofferson basically ended his mainstream career.

ALTERMAN: Yes, you could say the same thing about Harry Belafonte, too.

SE: Yeah. It’s funny he really was able to work. Harry Belafonte has never been not able to work. He quit making records and he worked as an actor all through the ’60s and ’70s and he was a big deal. He was in some big movies. He worked on stage here in New York quite a bit. I just don’t think about that stuff all that much.

ALTERMAN: Bruce is the best example but another example would be Willie Nelson. Everybody loves the guy, there’s nothing unpatriotic about him and yet he still has these subversive views that he’s not at all shy about talking about and you can hear some it in the music. I find that phenomenon very interesting.

SE: I do it. People do it. The reason people shy away from doing it is largely about money. The record business is shrinking enough and they just don’t want to not have a job at all. I get it. I’ve got an audience of a certain size and they’re loyal and some of them are too old to download so I still sell a few records. Most of my younger fans come for the political side of it. They’re more interested in the political stuff I do than anything else and I may be losing them with this last couple of records. This one I guess isn’t at all but except in the sense that any time making art in this world in this society the way that you want to do is a political statement in itself. I don’t accept political artists putting pressure on other artists to be political. It’s not about balls, it’s not about being a pussy. Look, if you ask Lucinda Williams why she doesn’t write political songs, I heard somebody ask her that once and she said “Steve Earle is really good at that.” She’s just not comfortable doing it. She has an audience that she reaches and she knows the job. The job is empathy. Whether you’re writing a love song or whether you’re writing a political song. Nobody gives a fuck about what you think. They give a fuck about what you have in common, that’s where you find your audience. There’s some things that I’ve written that’s just me beating people off the head and shoulders about what I believe but there’s very few of them.

ALTERMAN: You’ve been outspoken in opposition to the pressure on artists to boycott Israel. Why so?

SE: Putting Israel aside, I’ve always got to be careful about this, I’m the token guy in this situation. I don’t hang out with anything but Jews because I live in New York and I’m a lefty. Israel has become important to me. Israel is to me now what Ireland was to me in the 90s and what Mexico was to me in the ’70s and ’80s. It’s the other place in the world that I go. I really really love going there.

ALTERMAN: Could you describe why you feel the way you do about the place?

SE: I feel like I’m where Western civilization began and what I do has its roots deep in Western civilization—a form of literature. I love the food, I love the way the people live, I love…. I can’t eat hummus even in New York really anymore. There’s just something about it. There’s also a…and that’s what I encountered in a couple of other places in the world…. Vietnam’s one. The Vietnamese aren’t angry at us because they’ve been invaded over and over and over again. And it’s not because they’re that forgiving and we’re that cool. It’s because they’re not going to waste any time being angry at us because if the Martians invade they’ll go down the tunnels and kick their ass too no matter how long it takes. They just don’t waste time on that and I think there is some of that, believe it or not, to this day in Israel. I’m connected to it somehow. I was shocked. I’ve been there a couple times now, I can’t wait to go again. I hope to do a Masada concert with an audience. Look I got to do it once without an audience because it was the war. The first ceasefire collapsed and we had to cancel but we broadcasted over the internet to an empty amphitheater last year.

I boycotted Arizona because Tom Morello and some other friends of mine asked me to. I just did it because I was absolutely, categorically, opposed to those policies that the state government had—particularly the governor. I grew up in occupied Mexico, that’s my culture that’s where I come from. I saw it was a mistake because what happened was I didn’t play Phoenix, I played Tucson and I played Flagstaff, I played the places where there were public radio stations and they were the radio stations everybody listened to. What happened is the backlash was immediately, “You’ve abandoned your audience in Arizona. We’re opposed to this too and no one is lending us a voice.” Back to the job…So I decided and I think it applies to Israel and I don’t know Roger Waters so I don’t give a fuck. Cultural boycotts are meaningless. I understand the concept of an economic boycott. I understand boycotting lettuce, like Caesar Chavez did. I will participate in that kind of a boycott. I wouldn’t have bought Dr Pepper… I was very seriously into it, but I went without Dr Pepper for six months because the company that owns Dr Pepper owns one of the two biggest apple producers in upstate New York and they had locked all their workers out up there. I forget which one, it was one of the big apple juice producers and it belonged to Dr Pepper and they locked their workers out. I was asked to be a part of the boycott, they saw me with a Dr Pepper and said “Hey.” So I didn’t drink Dr Pepper for six months until they got a contract. I understand that but when my size audience… I don’t know. Maybe it’s different for Tom because he plays so much bigger places and there’s so much more infrastructure that comes into play when he plays… I’m not sure that even that applies but basically I do more good when I go and see what I see and I come back and I sing about it.

SE: I’ve spent a lot of time and energy trying to get to that the film I did with [Israeli recording artist] David Broza about the making of that record because it’s really important. That film East Jerusalem West Jerusalem, if they can find distribution for that film and then re-release that record then I think it would be a great thing for David and I think it would be a great thing for Israel because music does make a difference. It’s right there in the film. Not only were we making a record in East Jerusalem… We sat around for days wondering whether the Palestinians were going to show up. What they were worried about was bit recording on the record, they were worried about the fact that we were filming and they were worried about the fact that there were people watching them. Hamas is very very active on the Internet and that’s what they were scared of.

My first trip I landed in Tel Aviv, I got in a van, I went straight to East Jerusalem, checked into The Ambassador and started to walk down the hill to work in that studio. So, I know it inside out. To me, that’s home base. It’s weird, but that’s just the way I learned it.

 

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