Steve And Justin Townes Earle: Life Lessons Justin Townes Earle went into the same business as his father, country-rock singer-songwriter Steve Earle, who taught his son a lot about rebellion and making music. Together, they talk about the parallels between their lives growing up.

Steve And Justin Townes Earle: Life Lessons

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Justin Townes Earle went into the same business as his father.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. JUSTIN TOWNES EARLE: (Singing) I am my father's son. I've never known when to shut up.

MONTAGNE: This is Justin Townes Earle from a forthcoming album, ''Midnight at the Movies.'' His father is Steve Earle, the acclaimed singer and songwriter.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. STEVE EARLE: (Singing) You can smell the whisky burning down on Copperhead Road.

MONTAGNE: This morning, father and son join Steve Inskeep for our series The Family Business. Over the next few days, we're exploring different generations through the trades they pass on.

STEVE INSKEEP: Steve Earle passed on music and also a tendency toward drug addiction. He went to prison at one point for drug offenses, which is something the son, Justin Townes Earle, spoke about when we interviewed him earlier this year.

Mr. J. T. EARLE: I didn't do anything differently than what my father was doing. I mean, it's a really hard family to rebel in. I mean what do you do? You know, to rebel. I mean, I could have become an accountant, I guess, that would have been very rebellious in my family, you know. And probably would have made my father - or I could have become a Republican. That would've really pissed him off.

INSKEEP: That was Justin Townes Earle last spring. A few days ago we got both Earles on the line, and the father remembered his son's effort to find a way to rebel.

Mr. S. EARLE: He did decide to take up golf, at one point, which I object to...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. S. EARLE: On political grounds.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. S. EARLE: It's a Republican sport and it's - besides it's white, and you hit it, and it goes away, and then you chase it all day. So it's just like cocaine, I try to avoid that sort of behavior.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. S. EARLE: But what it ended up, I came in one day, and Justin's in the front yard, and he's got on a Nirvana T-shirt that's too short for him. You know, so it's showing about six inches of skin between the bottom of the shirt and the top of his jeans. His hair is like green at the time, because I told him if he dyed it orange and got in the swimming pool, it would do that, and he didn't believe me. I guess he thought I'd never dyed my hair. And he's hitting nine irons out into the cow pasture in front of our house...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. S. EARLE: And just as hard as he can. And I started to jump on him, because I just - I don't even know where he got the golf clubs, I never allowed them in my house. And then I got to looking at that, and just the whole idea of dropping him off at a country club somewhere started to appeal to me. So, I actually didn't, ended up not saying anything at all.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: Justin, how's your golf game?

Mr. J.T. EARLE: I never played golf, I just kind of hit golf balls.

Mr. S. EARLE: He just did it to irritate me, I swear to God. He did it right in the front yard, so I saw him when I drove up.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. S. EARLE: That was the only purpose in the exercise.

INSKEEP: Justin, would you say that your dad encouraged you to become a musician?

Mr. J.T. EARLE: Oh yeah. Nobody in my family, even on my mom's side ever discouraged me from playing music. 'Cause I was such - I mean I was a really messed-up kid. You know, I got in a lot of trouble really fast, and when people saw me taking interest in something, and it looked like I might be kind of good at it, people started going, please, do whatever you got to do.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. S. EARLE: You burned every bridge, and there came a point when it was like, what else were you going to do? I knew what this looked like. I couldn't do anything else, I mean, the reason you were raised on food stamps is because, I mean I never made over seven or $8,000 a year, until the early '80s, and then by the mid '80s, I was finally making a decent amount of money. But, it took a long time, and I wasn't really - I didn't prepare myself to do anything else. And when I saw Justin not preparing himself to do anything else, I knew what that looked like.

INSKEEP: Justin Townes Earle, can you think of a moment, a specific moment, in which your father sat you down and gave you one concrete piece of advice about the music business?

Mr. J.T. EARLE: Well, the one that I still very, very much hold onto these days, is just - I was trying to write songs and I did not read at all, and that was when I was about 12 or 13, maybe 14. And he told me that if nothing was put in, then nothing comes out. And so - and then I became a pretty avid reader and I still am to this day. And I read mainly history, I'm reading the history of the Middle East right now, and I read a lot of Civil War texts and stuff like that.

INSKEEP: You both have written songs that are set in the voices of soldiers from the Civil War, characters from the Civil War.

Mr. S. EARLE: (Singing) God damn you, Ben McCullough. Hate you more than any other man alive. Yeah, when you die, you'll be a footsoldier, just like me, in the devil's infantry.

INSKEEP: Steve Earle, I've got in front of me, some lyrics from a Civil War song that you wrote, ''Ben McCullough.''

Mr. S. EARLE: Right.

INSKEEP: A couplet here. I killed a boy the other night, who'd never even shaved. I don't even know what I'm fighting for. I ain't never owned a slave.

Mr. S. EARLE: Right.

INSKEEP: And then Justine Townes Earle many years later, writes a song called ''Lone Pine Hill,'' which is also in the voice of a soldier who's never even known a slave owner, much less a slave, it says here. And after four long years, I just can't tell you what the hell I've been fighting for. What was happening there, gentlemen?

Mr. S. EARLE: Well, I think when he first started sometimes emulating what I did, I don't think he always realized he was doing it, just like he and I don't realize sometimes when we begin to emulate another piece of music. It's subconscious at first, then we have to bust ourselves, because we're fairly knowledgeable. Usually, we'll realize it at some point in the process. Sometimes, before we've finished the song...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. S. EARLE: ...sometimes after.

INSKEEP: Justin Townes Earle, what is happening from your perspective in those two songs?

Mr. J.T. EARLE: Well you know, I think that it - it's very much - there's always been a tradition in folk music of borrowing ideas and putting your addition onto it...

INSKEEP: But were you consciously emulating your father? Or did it happen without you...?

Mr. J.T. EARLE: I was - no I was - it's something that I wrote, and then I realized that it was the same sentiment, and almost the same line. But I mean, that's what we do that for, is to pay tribute to the great songwriters that came before. And it just so happens that my father is one of the best that there's been. So, I'm not going to change the line just because he said it before me.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. J.T. EARLE: (Singing) There's a strange moon hanging overhead tonight. And if the rain keeps coming, then the creek's gonna rise. But with the good Lord's grace, I may get out of this place. And I'll be in your arms come the morning light, I swear.

INSKEEP: Music by Justine Townes Earle. He spoke with us from Dallas. His father, Steve Earle, was in New York. They're rarely in the same place anymore, as they tour around the country.

Well, Justine Townes Earle, I'll give you the last word here then. Do you think that you're in a business that you could be able to pass on to your kids, if you have them?

Mr. J.T. EARLE: You know, I got a feeling that I'm going to have, when I have kids, I'm going to have a little girl, and she's going to be like completely sensible, and so she probably won't want anything to do with the music industry.

Mr. S. EARLE: If you think for one minute - I do believe in karma - and if you think that for one minute, that there would be anything karmically correct for you to have a well-behaved little girl, you're dreaming.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. J.T. EARLE: It's what's going to happen.

Mr. S. EARLE: You're absolutely dreaming.

INSKEEP: Well, Steve Earle and Justin Townes Earle, thanks very much to both of you.

Mr. J.T. EARLE: Thanks.

Mr. S. EARLE: Thank you. Hey, Justin, call your grandmother, please.

Mr. J.T. EARLE: I will, I'll call her later on today.

Mr. S. EARLE: All right, cool.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. J. T. EARLE: (Singing) I ain't fooling no one. I am my father's son.

MONTAGNE: And you can hear Steve and Justine Townes Earle perform on our web site at

Mr. J. T. EARLE: (Singing) I'd be the first to admit I never tried. It sure hurts, it sure hurts sometimes. We don't see eye to eye.

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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