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"Awhile back, I had a man approach me wearing a suit. I'm old and paranoid, so I thought he was a cop. But he was a guy from the Green Party who wanted me to run for the Senate." Earle laughs this off; that's not where his ambition lies.
Nor is Earle fueled by thoughts of mogul-dom. His label is small and low-key, concentrating on issuing his own records and those by close friends. Unfortunately, his experiment recording and touring with bluegrass guru Del McCoury gave Earle one less friend.
"The deal with Del...I kept quiet a long time, but Del kept saying things about why he didn't want to tour with me anymore. He said it was my language. But it was about billing and money. He held me up. We had Letterman and a European tour booked, and he went on strike for higher billing and longer sets and more money. I was faced with lawsuits, so I gave in."
And Earle doesn't plan to make more friends with his stand on Napster. "The thing that people like it for, that anarchic spirit, I understand. But people who think that it's just about fucking the big corporations don't understand that indie music is also being exchanged, and that's a matter of life or death hanging on 3,000 sales. That makes it hurtful. It's a reality that sooner or later, all labels will sell music this way. Some laws are going to have to be made.
"But we're living in a country that's killing people, so this [Napster] isn't a big deal." It's the kind of graceful, true statement his songs have always made. Familiar or not, as long as Earle tells his own story--and those of others--honestly, he remains one of music's most compelling authors.