November ’08 – I supported Justin Townes Earle (and Perry Keyes) when he played at the Annandale at the end of November. I’d been looking forward to the show for months – when I’d been offered the gig back in August, I’d been feeling a bit forlorn, having just broken up for the last time with a man I’d been breaking up with, it seemed, from the very first night we spent together about nine months before. Or another way to put it is that I jumped aboard a ship that had a great big hole in its hull, only it took nine months to sink.
The prospect of the gig made the future just a bit brighter. I was not immune to the fact that Justin Townes Earle was Steve’s son. In another broken-hearted phase of my life, I had even written a song (‘Take Me As I Am’, soon to be released by Nic Dalton And His Gloomchasers) in which I channelled Steve, and wrote a love song to me. “How did you get here so quickly? What took you thirty years took me fifty,” I had Steve singing to me. “Even then I nearly didn’t make it – offer me a bad deal and I’d take it. But everything happens in its own time - I’ll be your reason, and you can be my rhyme.” My love for Steve’s songs has comforted me over the years, and it was very bemusing to me that he was comforting me again, in a more convoluted way, by siring a son some twenty-five years before who needed another act to open his show in Sydney.
By the time the gig came around, the forlornness had passed, as it does (oh, shame!), and I had trained myself to drop the epithet, “Steve Earle’s son.” My set was fun – thankfully, as it was being filmed by Moshcam (you can see the whole night at moshcam.com/…) – and when the time came, I shoved my way to the front of the crowd to study Justin. The spectacle of JTE was very arresting. Off-stage, he was lanky and polite, a bit odd-looking, with a touch of gawkiness; on-stage, his eyes burned, his face was lighted ridges and gouged-out shadows, his combed-back, macassar-oiled hair gleamed. He is very tall and rangy, and had his mic arranged at chest height, so that he loped around the stage, his guitar hanging round his neck, and had to duck his head to sing into the mic. I don’t think he glanced at his guitar once, no more than you need to look at your own mouth to make sure you’re chewing properly. He was an amazing player – very percussive, very distinctive. I was looking very hard, but I couldn’t see how he was making all that noise with just one guitar. A fair bit of hammering, and just general wizardry. At first, he reminded me of a caged animal prowling up and down the stage, taking leisurely bites out of the microphone as he passed it. An hour later, as his set continued, I was up the back with a friend who commented, “Guitar addict!” By this time, JTE seemed more like a moth, drawn again and again to the candleflame-microphone. “You get the feeling that he could go on like this all night,” said my friend, a boy, and therefore less susceptible to Justin’s charms. Every girl in the room was at that moment wishing he WOULD go on like this all night, preferably in a private concert performed solely for her pleasure.
Of course, my favourite song, one that will be on his soon-to-be-released album, was about him and Steve, “I am my father’s son.” The next day I could remember most of the lyric – it was simple, with a repeated line at the end of each verse, and was in that plain language you use when you have something very, very definite to say, and your meaning comes through with a stark truthfulness almost embarrassing for the listener. I can only remember the gist of it now, two months later. The first two verses were about characteristics he shares with his father, including, “We don’t know when to shut up.” Then in the next verse, he says, “I have my mother’s frame,” and the song begins to turn. One lonely night, he lights a cigarette in the kitchen, and in the reflection, he sees himself clearly, because, “I have my mother’s eyes.” There was something quite devastating about him, such an assured showman, sharing this troubled relationship with us, a roomful of strangers with no helpful advice to offer. Driving home, my flatmate Stella was in the back-seat, scarcely able to speak, for love of Justin (who had told her, after the show, that her eyes were “prettier than Pearl’s”; Pearl being the beautiful woman who joins him on his album cover). For Stella, I had plenty of not-so-helpful advice, considering myself an expert, after my recent experience, at identifying sinking ships.