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K. I BY BRAD TYER BACK OF NE BO Being Townes STEVE EARLE, HERO WORSHIP, AND THE CULT OF THE TEXAS TROUBADOUR Waitin’ around to die: Steve Earle and Townes Van Zandt. “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.” Steve Earle If that quote’s not the very portrait of abject fanboydom, nothing is. And the working definition of fanboy \(put down your dictionaries; I’m makthat the boy in question \(and yes, for just admire the object of his infatuationhe wants to be the object of his infatuation. Steve Earle, now 54, seems to have begun in his teens wanting to be Townes Van Zandt. That’s when Earle dropped out of high school and moved to Houston, where Van Zandt was making his bones in the 196os and early 1970s. Since then, Earle has indulged and survived periodic heroin addictions, like Van Zandt. He’s gotten married more often than the average man \(seven three. Earle had a boy and named him Justin Townes; Van Zandt named his own boy John Townes II, after himself. Earle gave the famous quote taunting Dylan-worshippers and sang Van Zandt’s songs and recorded an album with him \(and Guy Clark: Together at the Bluebird And Earle has compiled a body of work comprising a bunch of great songs, though perhaps none quite as great as Van Zandt’s greatest. In 2001, Earle covered one of those songs, Townes’ “Two Girls:’ for the Van Zandt tribute record Poet. Earle has a vocal mode in which he sounds like the worst ham in the worldlike he’s aping Steve Earle aping Tom Waits. That’s bad Steve Earle, and he’s intolerable in that mode, if you ask me. That’s the tone he brings to “Two Girls,” the album’s last track. And damned if Earle doesn’t bring the same hammy hand to the first track of his own new record, Townes, which is comprised of nothing but Van Zandt songs. \(The only words on the cover are “Steve Earle” and “Townes,” with the image of a molting moth between them; it’s kind of creepy if That first track, less necessary than perhaps anything ever recorded, is “Pancho and Lefty.” Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard proved that slippery song uncoverable in 1983. \(Delbert McClinton JUNE 12, 2009 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 21