Oakwood owl querying
Pilgrims at the journey gate,
Whooo will pass this night?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Prisoners and Pretenders

John Cash and a number of other pretenders have written or sung "Prison Songs", like it's a romantic thing, like trains or cowboys. Steve Earle took another approach. He actually did prison time. He's all strung out on heroin in Billy Austin. A short time later he kicked his drug habit in jail. Ellis Unit One is later, after he got straightened out. It reflects his ongoing campaign against the death penalty, a belief I share with him.


reverend dick said...

Well, Mr. Cash would be among the first to agree that he had never been incarcerated, but can we agree he had his own personal prison at times and that he was an incredibly honest conveyor of suffering?

Dang. Waylon and Johnny in the same week.

reverend dick said...

Though of course, Mr. Earle is indeed the REAL deal.

Gunnar Berg said...

I am of the humble opinion that John Cash didn't do anything exceptional until the American Recordings.

Justine Nicholas Valinotti said...

Five seconds into "Billy Austin," I was in tears. There is a kind of pain that you can convey only if you've experienced it; you hear it on both songs.

Of course, the other side of that pain comes if you live to recount it. That Steve Earle does beautifully.

"Billy Austin" makes me think of what "Amazing Grace" might have been had it been written by a slave or ex-slave rather than a former slave trader. And "Ellis" is what "Notes from the Underground" might have been under different circumstances.

I want you to know, Gunnar, that I share your abhorrence of the death penalty. It's probably the only political view of mine that I haven't changed at any time in my life: If anything, my stance against it becomes more deep-rooted: It seems that without trying, I learn of new reasons why the death penalty is an abomination.

Anonymous said...


Well, just please don't say anything but good about George Jones, and all's well...

Gunnar Berg said...

I only bought one Jones album. It had 'He Stopped Loving Her Today', just at the time my father-in-law died. I loved my in-laws. I'll forgive George all the hokey crap he put out, for that one song. All in all, I tend toward Texas Country, not Nashville Country.