"You don’t care whether you get a shot or a banana peel, you just want something to happen to change the way you feel."
After narrowly avoiding a lengthy prison stint, country musician Steve Earle has now been sober for 22 years, and he spoke candidly with The Guardian about his struggles with drugs on the eve of the release of his new album, So You Wanna Be an Outlaw.
Earle first hit the country music scene back in the eighties, winning acclaim for his albums Guitar Town and Copperhead Road, but when his addiction took over, he didn’t write anything for four years and ended up selling motorcycles, cars, guitars, and jewelry to fund his habit.
“I sold them to buy heroin,” he says. “I lost everything but my house. The house in Tennessee I still own, though I don’t know how. I guess it’s because I couldn’t figure out how to put it in the car and take it to the pawn shop.”
Still, the house was uninhabitable and Earle was homeless for several years. He told the New York Times, “I was borrowing friends’ cars to sleep in. I didn’t have a guitar. I didn’t make any music.”
Earle says he was blowing $500 to $1,000 a day on drugs. “In the end I just gave up on heroin because I wasn’t getting that high, so I went on the methadone program and started smoking cocaine. I hate cocaine, I prefer heroin and opiates, but it was like being a monkey and you just conditioned yourself to push the button. You don’t care whether you get a shot or a banana peel, you just want something to happen to change the way you feel.”
Earle was eventually busted twice for possession of heroin and cocaine, and was sentenced to a year in jail. He served only 60 days of that sentence, then went into rehab in 1994. He’s reportedly been sober ever since, though he says he has to work hard on his recovery.
Earle is currently writing his memoirs, and taking care of his autistic son, John Henry, has also kept him centered and focused. “Autism is the center of my life, apart from recovery. They are the two things that control my life.”
Since getting sober, Earle has put out nearly an album a year. He told Mother Jones, “What else would I do? I don’t take drugs anymore. I don’t drink. I love to fish with a fly rod, but it’s not worth living in Montana or Idaho or New Zealand for that matter, cause I’d go kinda nuts.”