Biography of country singer Earle examines both his musical promise and struggle to succeed

Biographers have the reputation of trying to find the unique angle on the life of a person whom the general public has a predetermined perception. Some biographers try to sugarcoat the truth or provide readers with a shocking exposé. While such an approach is tempting, it ultimately undermines the believability of the biographer’s account.

Lauren St. John takes a different approach to the life of country musician Steve Earle by laying out his life as it was, making few grand claims or brilliant revelations. Nonetheless, Earle’s life proves to be more than interesting enough on its own.

Extending from his own personal struggles and the seemingly rough life that he led, Earle can be held accountable for many of his failures and lapses in judgment. Yet St. John shows that these characteristics were single-handedly responsible for stirring emotions of admiration and awe in everyone Earle encountered.

Although Earle never made millions or had his name decorated all over the country music charts, his flair and life in the industry influenced many artists. Earle always had the potential to become great. Imagine a man who had a wonderful talent, but lacked the drive to consistently put it to effective use, and you will have Earle’s story in a nutshell.

St. John begins with Earle’s youth, when he managed to bring his town to its feet but failed to use this momentum to forward his career. Earle’s drugs of choice in life were not music and adrenaline, but heroin and girls. Over the course of his life, he would be married five times and nearly die due to his addictions.

Earle had an uncanny nonchalance about his work and life, always living on the edge. In his own mind he was on top of his castle – it mattered little what lucrative contract was dangled in front of him, he would only do things his own way.

Earle was stubborn and matter-of-fact, living in the moment and rarely looking far into his future. People who did not know him might have seen him as audacious or arrogant, but for Earle things just made sense in his own mind, and it was useless to try to dissuade him from anything.

As a child, he constantly ran away from home. When his father would go hunting to find him, he never fought back, and merely climbed in the car with a sheepish look on his face. To Earle, he was just looking for an alternative form of education, never considering the anxiety he caused his family when he spontaneously wandered away.

As Earle grew older, his ways changed little, but developed to fit the changing times he endured. He lived a nomadic life in which staying put for more than one year was a long time. As Earle struck out on his own, he never managed to never settle down. He was always searching for that utopian nirvana for all musicians. Earle constantly showed glimmers of hope, but not even the best psychic could have predicted the courses his life took.

In 1986, the announcement of his first two Grammy nominations hinted that Earle showed signs of straightening out his life. But fate took a sharp turn, and by the beginning of the 1990s Earle found himself in prison for possession of narcotics. By all accounts, his prospects were bleak.

As a person who admittedly knows very little about country music and the country music industry, this book provided a unique take on one of country music’s stars. Earle might never become the greatest country music star in history, but he does provide one of the greatest stories. Following a life of bouncing between prisons, bars, rehab clinics and supportive friends, Earle never sacrificed his beliefs or refused to take a stand.

This book allows the reader to gain a new respect for the country music industry, although the nearly 400 pages prove to be a little excessive at some points.

Most impressive is that even after everything, Earle had the ability to keep going and continue to take his audience by storm with his music. Ultimately, Earle showed that musicians only die when their music fades away.