Shut Up & Die Like An Aviator

Steve Earle & The Dukes

MCA Records, 1991

REVIEW BY: Hansen Olson


I have this friend, Gary, a farmer who lives outside of our town. He's one of the best fathers I've ever had the privilege to know. The local sheriff, on the other hand, has been quoted as saying, "I'll put a bullet between Gary's eyes before I let him shoot me down." Not exactly a picture that fits together well, is it?

Y'see. About four years ago, Gary got into a hassle over money with the local rural electric co-op. He threatened several board members and is rumored to have murdered their dogs and some of their livestock. Ever since then, Gary has been running a generator off of his tractor for electricity rather than pay the co-op for their services. He's about to lose his farm for financial reasons. Everyone knows that he'll never leave his land alive. I just hope I'm not the one who has to tell him to leave!my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

If Gary sounds like a guy who's just tryin' to survive, someone you might respect, you'll love Steve Earle's music. If Gary sounds like a redneck asshole, then stay away from Mr. Earle and his Dukes. Y'see. Steve Earle is a survivor: a redneck, hippie, biker, alcoholic junkie who can sing and write some awesome tunes. He comes from a long tradition of fuck-ups: Hank Williams (Sr. & Jr.), George Jones, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Keith Richards, and Ronnie Van Zant.

This album was recorded on his 1990 world tour. Soon after, he was imprisoned for three to five years for possession of heroin. Supposedly, Steve Earle's cleaned up now. For his sake, I hope so. He's so fuckin' good it'd be a waste.

He sings about prisoners of all types: those on death row ("Billy Austin"), those stuck in dead-end jobs in small towns ("Someday"), those frozen by fear in relationships ("Fearless Heart"). He sings about fools who stand up in the face of all that would destroy them. Hope, for Steve Earle, is pissing into the wind. Freedom is not giving a shit. "I'm back out on that road again/Turn this beast into the wind/There are those that break and bend/I'm the other kind," he sings in "The Other Kind."

Growling guitars, churning organ ala Sir Douglas Quintet (who's "She's About A Mover" he covers,) meat & potatoes drums. Redneck country meets at the junction of southern rock 'n' roll and cheatin' blues.

Gary told me one day, "Fuck'm if they can't take a joke." Steve Earle writes in the liner notes of this fine live album: "We went all the way around the world. We hung out with a lot of bikers and drank a lot of beer. I didn't even get thrown in jail once."

Rating: B

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