PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Reviews

Steve Earle: Just an American Boy [DVD]

Adrien Begrand

Amos Poe had a terrific chance to put together the definitive profile of an artist who is at the peak of his career, producing great music, prose, and drama at such a prolific rate as he'd never done before.


Steve Earle

Just an American Boy [DVD]

Label: Artemis
US Release Date: 2004-02-10
UK Release Date: 2004-02-09
Amazon
iTunes

At one point during Amos Poe's documentary Steve Earle: Just an American Boy, Steve Earle is being driven through the nighttime streets of Nashville. The driver misses a turn, pulls a quick U-turn, and speeds off in the opposite direction. Earle orders the man to slow down, chastising, "I'm an ex-con, death penalty abolitionist, and the F.O.P. [Fraternal Order of Policemen] is based in Nashville." Always a guy who's never afraid to speak his mind, Earle knows a thing or two about trouble with authority. After a successful early career that eschewed the mainstream Nashville country scene, America's great roots rock rebel bottomed out in 1994, when he was arrested for drug possession. After cleaning up, Earle began the second stage of his musical career, releasing an unprecedented string of superb albums, one after the other, climaxing with his triumphant, politically charged Jerusalem in 2002.

Along the way, Earle has become a staunch opponent of capital punishment in the United States, he's become an anti-landmine activist, and has also emerged as one of the most vociferous critics of George W. Bush. His great ballad from Jerusalem, "John Walker's Blues", a sympathetic song about American Taliban member John Walker Lindh, had right-wing zealots accusing Earle of being unpatriotic in the year following 9-11, causing a small furor in the news media. "They may not be watching you," says Earle during one live performance in the film, "but I promise you they're watching me."

Following Earle on his North American tour in the fall of 2002 and early 2003, Amos Poe had a terrific chance to put together the definitive profile of an artist who is at the peak of his career, producing great music, prose, and drama at such a prolific rate as he'd never done before, and although the 90-minute film offers an interesting look at a fascinating man, for the most part, it's a blown opportunity. Shot entirely on digital video, Just an American Boy is an incredibly sloppy documentary; handheld shots during the live performances are barely above audience-shot bootleg quality, the sound is inconsistent, and cheesy video effects are often used to try to distract from the film's amateurish look. Even worse, though, is the editing. Haphazardly assembled, the film jumps all over the place chronologically, with no flow whatsoever.

Despite its great number of shortcomings, the film is still compelling, thanks to Mr. Earle, who always has something to say. When he speaks, he's always eloquent and witty, and the interview segments that are peppered throughout are all engaging. Earle talks about the state of America in early 2003, he voices his strong opinions on the death penalty (at one point, he talks about how the movie In Cold Blood gave him nightmares for days when he was a child), and hilariously describes the circumstances surrounding his 1994 arrest.

Just an American Boy's saving grace is the music, yet Poe still manages to shoot himself in the foot in that department. It's not a concert film, but there are plenty of excellent live performances by Earle and his great backing band The Dukes, including such songs as the classics "Copperhead Road" and "Guitar Town", his great "Amerika 6.0 (The Best We Can Do)", a blazing rendition of "The Unrepentant", a superb bluegrass performance of "The Mountain", the emotional death row protest song "Billy Austin", and a fiery cover of Nick Lowe's "What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love & Understanding". Most frustrating, though, is the portion of the film that focuses on "John Walker's Blues". You see Earle defending his song in various interviews, and you see clips of him performing it on Fox News, a radio station, in rehearsal, and in a live setting, but the music is always interrupted by interview clips, drowning out most of the lyrics. The song is one of Earle's greatest achievements, but those people new to his music don't have a chance to hear the entire thing for themselves. It's a grievous error by Poe.

One thing Poe does get across is the fact that Earle is one passionate man. At one point, he's touring, defending his music to the right-wing media, rewriting his play about Karla Faye Tucker (the first Texas woman to be executed), and arguing on the phone with the play's director, seemingly at once. Earle's presence alone keeps Just an American Boy afloat, despite Poe's directorial ineptitude. Unfortunately, the only people the film will appeal to are fans of Earle's music, and even they won't be completely satisfied; anyone unfamiliar with the man and his music will probably be too distracted by the film's shoddy look. And to those fans who are thinking of buying this DVD: make sure you own the far, far superior companion live album first. It gives you a much more superior portrait of Steve Earle that Amos Poe could ever have managed.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.