Gone was the brash, cocksure young singer-songwriter who against the steep odds of addiction and a tough upbringing had transformed himself into a true artist with the critical acclaim to prove it. In its place was a 150-pound wraith haunting the East Village in New York City with an overriding paranoia brought on by an eight-ball of cocaine and a half-gallon of vodka every day.
The continuous binges were destroying his talent and making his intense live shows occasionally forgettable. They were destroying his friendships one by one. Nearly six years of sobriety, all gone during an increasingly tight downward spiral over a year’s time.
Earle fixated on an erroneous news report that said he hit a woman while destroying his dressing room in an Indianapolis club. For a man raised by a single mother, the idea he would hit a woman was devastating. It prompted a five-day bender.
“I’d just be walking down the streets in Manhattan thinking everybody was looking at me,” Earle said. “I thought everybody knew about what happened and it absolutely was just crushing me. I remember vaguely calling my publicist at the time – I fired my manager not long before that had happened, and my publicist and my booking agent were the only people still working for me – and just hysterically crying and saying I just didn’t want to do this anymore. I didn’t want to tour any more. I didn’t want to make records.”
Not long after, Earle entered formal treatment for the 13th time.
In the 10 months since he completed rehab, the 29-year-old son of country rebel Steve Earle has experienced a series of highs and lows he shared in several interviews.
He’s slipped back into heroin use and rallied, turning to a new treatment that seems to have helped him settle into a healthier routine. He’s been hailed as a new voice for his generation and targeted by cruel attempts at gallows humor. He split with his old girlfriend and started a new relationship that’s brought him back to his hometown.
Today he’s on the “marijuana maintenance plan” and enjoying the benefits of anti-addiction drug Soboxone. He’s exercising and feels as fit as he ever has. He’s touring much of the fall and is preparing to record his fifth record, a significant step that has Earle pointed directly into the future.
“And I’m as content as I’ve ever been,” Earle said. “Which doesn’t mean I’m content, but I’m as content as I’ve ever been. I’m still always going to be a little bit discontent because I’m a little bit crazy and I’ll always want more than I have. That’s what keeps me going. That’s what keeps me driven to keep on doing what I’m doing.”
Perhaps it’s that drive that’s kept him alive so long.