Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Father & son: Justin Townes Earle cancels tour for rehab

Justin Townes Earle

Justin Townes Earle

Today’s news: singer-songwriter Justin Townes Earle has decided to cancel the rest of his current tour (which means dumping 21 shows in the U.S. this month and next, and 10 shows in the UK through November 14) in order to go to rehab.

Earle, 28, was arrested Sept. 16 in Indianapolis on charges of public intoxication, battery, and resisting arrest in connection with an alleged dispute with a nightclub owner and the owner’s daughter during Earle’s appearance at the club.

Steve Earle

Steve Earle, hardcore troubadour

Earle is the son of singer-songwriter Steve Earle, one of my heroes. I love Steve Earle. Love his music, love his acting in the television series “The Wire” (in which he plays the NA sponsor to the unforgettable homeless police informant, Bubbles), and love his personal story. He was completely beaten by drugs, kicked in jail, and came back to have a prolific creative life and a productive marriage. He BELIEVES in recovery. He knows it works. He lives it, and it is available in his music.

Christopher Kennedy Lawford, Moments of ClarityIf you don’t know about Steve Earle’s story, you must check it out. You can find it in a few places. One place I liked reading it is Chris Lawford’s collection of addicts’ stories, Moments of Clarity: Voices from the Front Lines of Addiction and Recovery. I bought this book in hardcover (I know I keep saying “I bought this book in hardcover” but I, like, never buy hardcovers because I’m so cheap, my mother taught me always to wait for the paperback, but I’ve been trying to do things differently) shortly after I got out of detox almost solely because Steve Earle’s story was in it and at that moment of my life I needed to own Steve Earle’s story, and also Jamie Lee Curtis’s story (she was a Vicodin fiend, like me, she hoarded Vicodin and ate it secretly, only she got free a lot more quickly than I did—good for her), and also Lou Gossett’s and Alec Baldwin’s. But Steve Earle says some fabulous things in his story. Here is one thing he says about forgiveness that I reread this morning… having two years out of detox, out of the daily grind of using, it read differently to me today—it read more compassionately and with more possibility:

I am much more forgiving now, because I frequently have to forgive myself as I just stumble through the wreckage and try to recover. . . . The biggest difference now is that I have to feel stuff and be there for it, and if I hurt somebody’s feelings I have to deal with the consequences. Before, if I hurt somebody’s feelings—and I’m sure I hurt lots of people’s feelings—I was capable of living with it because I was high all the time. That’s why people think we’re assholes, because we are. We aren’t out there operating with all of our senses, and we aren’t operating with our hearts. We’re operating with our brains and our “want to” and that’s it. Recovery doesn’t promise that you won’t be an asshole, but most of the people that practice spiritual principles of recovery in all their affairs, they do get to be better people than they were when they came in. I may still be, relatively speaking, an asshole, but I know I’m better than I was, and that’s because I have to be. It’s absolutely necessary to my survival, and I don’t do it for everybody else, I do it for me.

How does this relate to his son’s going to rehab? Steve Earle knows that the “easier, softer way” doesn’t work. He knows everyone has to get well for himself and find his own way. A few years back, Justin was working for him, playing in his band, and Justin’s drug use got in the way of his performances, so what did Daddy do?—kicked baby boy out of the band. Said, You’re on your own. And by all reports, that was when Justin started looking after himself and his health. Also, his own work took off and earned critical notice. … No pithy blog-summary of their relationship can do its complexities justice, but there are some principles at work in there. Boundaries, for one.

And judging by his website, I don’t think Steve is shutting his own schedule down because of what’s happening with his kid. He’s doing recovery for himself. When he does what he needs to do for himself, it enables others to act on their own behalf as well.

(This is still a difficult concept for me to accept… that I’m doing it for myself—they all say that: they do it for themselves…)

Now: Justin has grown enough that he apparently doesn’t need Daddy to tell him when it’s time to get treatment. Good for him. Reports say he’ll be back on the road before Thanksgiving for the Kent State Folk Festival. Hope so.


  1. I like Steve Earle too. I hope that his son gets it together.

  2. Justin’s music is well worth checking out, as well.

    For those who don’t know Steve’s music, a good starting point is “Goodbye,” which was the first song he wrote clean, He has called it a “ninth step in the key of C.”

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