It’s well-documented that country singer Steve Earle has lots of opinions.
A June 2017 profile of him in The Guardian featured choice quotes like “[Modern country music sung by men is] just doing hip-hop for people who are afraid of black people,” “Donald Trump really is fascist” and this zinger directed at Hayes Carll: “My ex-wife traded me in for a younger, skinnier, less talented singer-songwriter.” (Carll responded at Willie’s Picnic, where they were both playing this year: “I think she left you because you wouldn’t shut your mouth.”)
Now, in a new video for Al Jazeera Plus, Earle is interviewed about his thoughts on some other, more serious topics: the death penalty and the Confederate flag.
“I don’t think you can counter violence with violence, and at some point somebody just has to say no. I grew up in a house that was opposed to the death penalty,” Earle says in the beginning of the video.
Earle goes on to relate his experience of witnessing the execution of Austin resident and convicted murderer Jonathan Wayne Nobles. Earle and Nobles became pen pals for a decade, only to meet mere days before Nobles was to be executed. Nobles said he wanted Earle to be there as a witness.
“I guess guys would write me because I’d been locked up for a little while and they thought maybe we had a common language, and finally one of them got an execution date and asked me to witness his execution,” Earle said. “His name was Jonathan Wayne Nobles...And you know, what I know it to be from witnessing [the execution] was it was every bit as hard on the guards and the minister and everybody that was involved in that execution- really, harder on them than the people that are executed, because they’re gone.
“I believe that in a democracy, if the government takes a life, then I’m taking a life, and I object to the damage that does to my spirit.”
Later in the video, Earle goes on to explain why he wrote his song “Mississippi, It’s Time,” which urges the state of Mississippi to remove the Confederate battle flag emblem from its state flag.
“I don’t have any African-American friends that aren’t offended by [the Confederate flag], and I think that’s all that counts. I wrote ‘Mississippi’ in kind of a fever pitch.
“I’m always going to be from the South, but I’m just not a Southerner that believes the Civil War was fought over states’ rights; I reckon it was about slavery.”
Watch the full video below: