'John Walker's Blues' meets the boos
NEW YORK (CNN) -- A new song by the country singer-songwriter Steve Earle that offers an empathetic view of John Walker Lindh is drawing criticism days after the American Muslim convert pleaded guilty to aiding the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
Taken from Earle's album "Jerusalem," due out in late September, "John Walker's Blues" is a stately ballad sung from Walker Lindh's perspective referring to his interest in music videos, boy bands and religious fanaticism.
It features Earle's recitation of an Arabic prayer and ends with mullahs reading from the Quran.
In one verse Earle sings, "I'm just an American boy, raised on MTV, And I've seen all the kids in the soda pop bands, but none of them look like me. So I started looking round, and I heard the word of God. And the first thing I heard that made sense was the word of Allah, Peace be upon him."
In exchange for Walker Lindh's plea, the government agreed to drop nine more serious counts, including conspiracy to murder U.S. nationals and providing material support to terrorist organizations. He is expected to be sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Some commentators in Nashville, Tennessee, which is considered the home of country music, quickly branded the song unpatriotic. Nashville radio talk show host Steve Gill said "it celebrates and glorifies a traitor to this country."
Gill compared Earle to actress Jane Fonda during her "Hanoi Jane" phase, Walker Lindh himself and "to all those people who hate America."
"We'll give it airplay once and then it's going into the dustbin of history, where it belongs," said Gill. "Most people have not heard the song yet, so the level of outrage is diminished by a lack of information."
Gill suggested that Earle is "pushing the edge of the envelope to attract attention, but it's the wrong subject at the wrong time. He's been going nowhere fast for a long time, and while this may draw fleeting attention, it won't save his faltering career."
"Jerusalem" touches on a number of political and social issues, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, political conspiracies and legislation Earle regards as reactionary.
The furor over "John Walker's Blues" marks a return to the political spotlight for Earle, who has courted controversy in the past by calling himself a Marxist and supporting the movement to abolish the death penalty.
The album also includes the song "I Remember You" (a duet with Emmylou Harris).
Earle has been nominated for eight Grammy awards since his first album "Guitar Town" was released in 1986
Earle is on vacation in Europe and was unavailable for comment. He did, however, issue a press statement to accompany "Jerusalem," seemingly anticipating accusations of being unpatriotic.
"I don't condone what [Walker Lindh] did. ... My son Justin is almost exactly Walker's age. Would I be upset if he suddenly turned up fighting for the Islamic Jihad? Sure, absolutely. Fundamentalism, as practiced by the Taliban, is the enemy of real thought, and religion, too."
But , he said, "The culture here didn't impress [Walker Lindh], so he went looking for something to believe in."
Earle went on to say, "I'm not trying to get myself deported or something. In a big way this is the most pro-American record I've ever made. I feel urgently American."
Danny Goldberg, CEO of Artemis Records, the company releasing "Jerusalem," has rallied to Earle's defense.
"The song does not glorify John Walker Lindh." said Goldberg. "It would be a pretty shallow culture if songwriters only wrote about nice people.
"Anyone who listens to the 'Jerusalem' album will discover that Steve Earle remains a thoughtful singer who has chosen to incorporate current events into his poet's vision."
Spann's father wants stiff sentence for Lindh
July 22, 2002
'I plead guilty,' Taliban American says
July 17, 2002
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