This absorbing film, directed by Amos Poe (The Blank Generation), follows Earle criss-crossing the US in the troubled wake of 2002’s Bush-slapping album Jerusalem?in particular, the appalling right-wing furore over his”John Walker Blues”,an attempt to redress the demonisation of California’s now-infamous 20-year-old Taliban fighter. With The New York Post screaming “Twisted Ballad Honours Tali-Rat”,his empathy for the man George Bush Sr sneeringly refers to as “this poor misguided Marin County hot-tubber” is evidence not only of Earle’s tireless upholding of the Constitution’s true definition, but of a nation’s impotent desire to lash out at the next best thing to Bin Laden.Elsewhere, this is Earle as ferocious anti-death penalty campaigner (inspired by Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood), human rights activist and playwright (scribbling last-minute amendments to Karla, his life-and-death dramatisation of the first woman to be executed in Texas since the American Civil War, Karla Faye Tucker).
But it’s Earle’s own story more than anything?reformed hellcat, heroin junkie and jailbird, with a conscience forever hollering at his ear. Like he candidly admits: “I’m not trying to save anybody on Death Row, I’m trying to keep me from going to hell.”Musically, it’s intercut with 16 live treats, including the fiery-bellied “Over Yonder” and “Christmas In Washington”‘s rallying cry for more Woody Guthries in an apathetic age when rock as social protest is largely a bygone art. Then there’s the bluegrass championing of Bill Monroe (“The Mountain”), blood-rushes from the past (“Guitar Town”) and a stirring rewiring of late mentor Townes Van Zandt’s “Rex’s Blues”. A rebel bristling with a multitude of causes, the revitalised Earle is an inspirational joy.