Justin Townes Earle with special guest Emily Lubitz
Club Mullum, Mullum Ex-Services | Wednesday 11 September | 8pm | $49.50
He’s been holding the stage since his teen years, so the live stage is Justin Townes Earle’s place. He sets the tone.
‘When I started out what I felt in the room made me alter the way that I perform for people and the things I said. But not now – you get the feeling about the crowd how far you can go and if they come to the show and they want to joust with me – I am prepared to. I know how far I will go now, and where I won’t go.’
Previous recordings have been more inward dwelling but the arrival of his daughter has changed the way he views the world and what he says. When it comes to the MeToo movement he’s reflective, on board, and willing to be part of the change.
‘When you have been doing it as long as me there are things that we used to say that we probably shouldn’t have said. That’s before the MeToo movement. I look back now and say: hey we were wrong.’
Admitting wrong Justin believes is the step forward humanity struggles with but desperately needs to make if it’s going to repatriate the harm incurred by generations of privilege.
‘It’s one of the things that are the problem in the world – that most people are not prepared to admit they are wrong; the smartest people ask questions and admit they are wrong…’
This Nashville-born wunderkind believes America has ‘the dumbest president they’ve ever had’, living in a country that has persecuted ‘every group that has come there’. Critical thinking has never been more important. ‘Although we have to ask the right questions of the right people.’
‘We have forgotten the definition of what it means to be liberal. It’s not to be on one side. I don’t believe that one party has all the best ideas. It doesn’t work like that for me. I come from the democratic experiment of America…’
His track Don’t Be Frightened by the Sound is a reminder of human frailty when standing up for something; it sounds like a climate-change call to arms… which is is, but it’s also a song about race, about humanity…
‘We have this idea we can control everything and every aspect of everything especially when you put the human element in it… but we don’t.’
So is Justin Townes Earle the Saint of Lost Causes? Is the whole damn thing already lost?
So when talking about environmental change he reflects: ‘I don’t think it’s a lost cause – I think there is a slim chance, a very slim chance, we have gone so far. It is something I am very worried about, I am more focused on let’s get the people healthy, and get the people in the right place, and that’s the one thing that has to happen first. How can you tell someone who can barely feed their kids – they can barely do anything – how to care about the environment? We have to fix people’s place in the world and fast…’
Townes Earle grew up in the heyday of the American Dream – the time when so many were anaesthetised with this belief that you could be whatever you wanted to be, even the president, if you worked hard enough.
‘I think I was one of the last – I and my friends – to ever be told anything like that. Where I went to school it was a completely ridiculous notion. We went to a shit school – telling us we could be president? That’s why millenials’ kids are fucking cynical – a lot were raised by people who realised they were lied to. Saying you work hard and you’ll make it – you work hard every single day of your life and maybe you are going to have some sort of good life, but maybe you aren’t going to ever make enough to get by. My mother worked hard her whole life, and she always struggled. What does that tell people about their worth?’
This record is for his daughter. ‘It’s a direct result of this child being in the world and what the world is going to be that is left to her. I have this mixed thing: I want her to grow up in a better place than me, with a nice house and lawn and also a shitty apartment to learn what is coming. Kids from the street are adaptable to making money, but the upper class is not adaptable to living when they lose money.’
Clearly Justin Townes Earle has the resilience and creative insights of someone who’s lived in a shitty apartment. In this new album Saint of Lost Causes he stands on his soft green lawn and surveys what surrounds. It’s a powerful listen.
He plays the Mullum Ex-Services on Wednesday 11 September with special guest Emily Lubitz (Tinpan Orange). Show at 7pm with tix $49.50 at redsquaremusic.com.au.