Steve Earle is your favorite songwriter’s favorite songwriter. He may also be your favorite actor’s favorite actor.
The artist, born January 17, 1955, left home in his teens to find himself. He came up as a roots singer, creating a mixture of Americana, folk, blues and rock songs—some of which incorporated all of these elements in one tune.
His songs have been recorded by Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Levon Helm, Bob Seger, Percy Sledge and Emmylou Harris, among many more. Earle has also graced the silver screen and the small screen, most notably as a character on the famed HBO series The Wire.
The three-time Grammy Award winner has released more than 20 albums, has toured the globe many times over, and even fathered a legendary songwriting son, Justin Townes Earle (named after his hero, Townes Van Zandt), who sadly passed away in 2020 at age 38.
But what does the artist have to say about life (and death)? About his craft? The world at large, love and more?
Without further ado, let’s dive into the 33 best Steve Earle Quotes, shall we?
1. “I grew up counterculture. I’m essentially a hippie, and I’m essentially a folkie.”
2. “Music was very influential on me as a kid.
3. “Townes Van Zandt is the best songwriter in the whole world, and I’ll stand on Bob Dylan’s coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that.”
4. “To me, religion is an agreement between a group of people about what God is. Spirituality is a one-on-one relationship.”
5. “They say death and taxes are the only things that are inevitable. The truth is, you can not pay your taxes. I’ve done it, and there’s consequences, but it can be done. Death you’re not going to get out of, and you kind of got to deal with it.”
6. “I’m used to writing stories with a beginning a middle and an end in four minutes.”
7. “The singer-songwriter has always played music that was stylistically rooted in the ’30s and the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. But the fact of the matter is that none of us remember the Depression firsthand.
8. “If I can get Me out of the way, I can do anything.
9. “You can’t write if you don’t read.”
10. “I don’t usually read reviews.”
11. “You can go out and find ways to make your own record and get it out there now. If you really want to, you can be heard. Keep things simple. Learn to go out and play solo. That’s a really really good thing to learn, if you’re a singer-songwriter. Don’t be dependent on a band because you may not always be able to afford one.”
12. “Fundamentalism, as practiced by the Taliban, is the enemy of real thought, and religion too.”
13. “I’m a country singer, and I’m comfortable with that. But why does a country singer have to play only on country radio or a rock singer only on a rock station? I still don’t understand why it’s that big a deal.”
14. “The idea that murder victims’ families are best served by continuing the cycle of violence is something that I consider to be not only a lie, but criminally negligent. You lie to victims’ families when you tell them they’re going to receive closure if they participate in the process and witness the execution of a human being.”
15. “Every country that’s ever been the most powerful country in the world ceases to be the most powerful country in the world at some point.”
16. “I’ve never known of Wal-Mart to be a good neighbor in any town it’s ever moved into.”
17. “Actually, in its purest form, Islam is incredibly tolerant. That makes what’s going on in the world really bizarre.”
18. “I mainly read non-fiction, and that’s probably because I have a huge amount of insecurity about my lack of education and the things I don’t know.”
19. “I still write more songs about girls than anything else.”
20. “The creative core of New York has never been native New Yorkers; it’s people from all over the world.”
21. “We’re so terrified of death in Western culture that we have to make up a myth of an afterlife. I think there’s something to be said for living your life very mindful of the fact that you’re going to die because I think you carry yourself differently. It doesn’t have to be this big, negative bummer.”
22. “I love e-books. I can carry the complete works of William Shakespeare around with me all the time. Just think about that. Whether I’m on an airplane or wherever. Being able to have a library in your back pocket basically is something I support.”
23. “My objection to the death penalty is based on the idea that this is a democracy, and in a democracy the government is me, and if the government kills somebody then I’m killing somebody.”
24. “I think the singer/songwriter genre is going to be like bluegrass and jazz. You can make a living at it, but it’s not part of the musical mainstream anymore.”
25. “The human race survived the Inquisition. We can survive. It’s like the Anne Frank quote: ‘In spite of everything, I still believe that people are basically good at heart.’ Given what happened to her, it’s one of the miracles of the world that she said that.”
26. “I’m constantly warning people that are involved in my life that I can go busk and make a living. I can make my rent in New York City in the subway, I promise, if I’m forced to.”
27. “I don’t really think in terms of obstacles. My biggest obstacle is always myself.”
28. “I love Harry Potter. I love those books. That started because I lived with a woman who had kids who were, like, 10 and 7 when they moved in with me.”
29. “America’s criminal justice system isn’t known for rehabilitation. I’m not sure that, as a society, we are even interested in that concept anymore.
30. “All we do as songwriters is rewrite the songs that have impressed us till we find our own voice. It’s part of learning the craft.”
31. “Poetry is the hardest thing that there is. It fascinates me, so I want to write more of it.”
32. “I’ve been on every interstate highway in the lower forty-eight states by now, and I never get tired of the view.”
33. “I’ve never made a record that I’m ashamed of.”
Photo by Danny Clinch / Mixed Media Works