Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Steve Earle and Scott Miller

Steve Earle might have been the best rock 'n roll songwriter during the Clinton administration, and he had a run of six albums that started with 1995's Train a Comin' and ended with 200o's Transcendental Blues that was as great as the legendary string of releases put together by The Beatles and Bob Dylan in the '60s, Van Morrison from the late-'60s to the mid-'70s, and Bruce Springsteen from the mid-'70s through the early '80s. Then George Bush got elected, Steve got pissed off, and his once-finely-nuanced lyrics turned all mushbrained and self-righteous.

Here's his incisive political commentary on Condoleeza Rice from his latest album The Revolution Starts Now:

Oh Condi, Condi I’m talkin’ to you girl
What’s it gonna hurt come on give me a whirl
Shake your body now let me see you go
One time for me Oh Condi I love you so
Skank for me Condi show me what you got
They say you’re too uptight I say you’re not
Dance around me spinnin’ like a top
Oh Condi Condi Condi don’t ever stop

For the (Congressional) record, I am no fan of the Bush administration in general or Condoleeza Rice in particular, but this kind of condescending smarminess is distasteful at best, and at worst the kind of misogynistic shite that gives men a bad name. So until Steve recovers his brain (probably after the 2008 presidential election, assuming a Democrat is elected), I'm going to pass on future releases and look for solace elsewhere.

And recently I've found it in an unassuming guy named Scott Miller. Scott is the former leader of a band called the V-Roys, who put out several good to great albums in the late nineties and the early part of the oughties. He was signed to Steve Earle's Artemis label for good reason; he sounds just like Steve Earle. And more importantly, he still writes songs like Steve Earle used to write, like this one from his brand new album Citation, which covers the same overheated territory as Steve's Condi song, but which does it much more poetically, and with some evidence that its author has been taking his cues from Bruce Springsteen rather than Michael Moore:

Back when freedom was a stranger
But it was something we felt
I found myself a girlfriend
I couldn’t believe it myself
We took a Chevy Citation
That a friend would let us use
When we got tired of waiting
For what we wanted to do
I had her crawling up the window
She had me shaking in my seat
I could smell her on my fingers
She said I tasted so sweet

Just some West Virginia back roads
There never was much else
Jam a tape into the player
I couldn’t believe it myself
Those drums they shook the speakers
The bass it shook me to the core
If the Boss had been a preacher
He could ‘ve led us to the Lord
She knew all the lyrics
And they sang so true
Just two rock n’ roll spirits
With nothing better to do

Now the past it is a stranger
And I found someone else
Got car payments and a mortgage
I can’t believe it myself
But I don’t mind getting older
If you get smarter when you do
And the burdens that you shoulder
Well, that’s what defines you
I’m sure they crushed the Citation
I know the 8 track broke
We’re such a complicated nation
But I still got rock n’ roll

Yeah, I've got the English degree, and like flowery odes to sunsets. But you still can't beat songs about cars and girls. And since Steve is only writing about girls in power, and since Bruce is driving a luxury SUV, I'm going to stick with blue collar Scott Miller and Chevy Citations.


Anonymous said...

You should have gone to SXSW!

Steve was on a panel called "Ten Things You Can Do to Change the World." And while he didn't address the Condi song specifically, he did say "When they do my post-mortem, they'll find I wrote more songs about girls than about politics."

I agree - I have a very low regard for the Bush administration, but song's like this (and Mark Olson's Political Manifest) just aren't helpful, and what's worse - we know artists like this can do better. Much better.

So thanks for the Scott Miller tip.

Michael Krahn said...


I couldn't agree more. Steve had an amazing string of great country rock records going but he lost his objectivity on the last one.

I did think though that on that last release there was a phenomenal song that was sort of a "Letter from a Soldier" type-thing (I don't have it with me here)... and there was a decent trucker song on there too.

"More of those please, Mr. Earle. That Condi song is bad on so many levels."

woodsmeister said...

Agree with the Steve Earle analysis completely. I've not heard Scott Miller's new one, but I agree that his first two solo CDs were really outstanding.

I'm just old enough that the car I learned to drive in was a Chevy Citation. They were just introduced in 1980 when I turned 16, and Cardington High School had a brand spankin' new one loaned to the Driver's Ed program by the Chevy dealer in Mt. Gilead, and it was painted prominently on the doors on both sides.