I was living in Berkeley, California, with a woman I thought I was gonna marry. The wheels were coming off big time and I didn’t know what the fuck was happening to my life. I was drinking. A lot. I had a stupid job that sent me driving all around the Bay Area in a little white Toyota pick-up.
On October 17, 1988, I was walking down Telegraph Avenue in this town I hated at a cellular level and I saw THIS in the window of the record store.
I went through the door like a shot and bought the cassette. It stayed stuck in my player for some time. I tore around Northern California with a bad attitude and Copperhead Road turned up to 11.
The songs were speaking directly to me.
Lately I’ve been feeling a little uneasy so I run straight home to you
It’s been cold as hell and you just can’t tell what a girl might do
I made a whole lot of promises baby, but none of my dreams came true
And it’s you that paid and I’m so afraid that I’m losing you
When the relationship imploded, I escaped down I-5 to L.A. — with a lightly-worn diamond ring and a bad attitude … and Copperhead Road turned up to 11.
I hardly ever think about the girl… that whole thing disappeared in the rear view mirror. But by Crom, Copperhead Road has been right there for three decades. Marilyn and I had a bagpiper pipe us out of the church where we married to the strains of that epic tale of Appalachian outlawry, and I play it in every set. I’ve probably played the song a few thousand times — and it still raises the hair on the back of my neck.
A couple of years ago, Marilyn and Ceili, our friend Leith and my brother John saw Steve in Bend on a hot, thunder-laden evening. It was our wedding anniversary. When the “bagpipe” intro sounded out across the packed crowd, Marilyn burst into a fountain of tears. Somewhere, Ceili’s got a video…
I’d been a Steve Earle fan since the first chunky chords of Guitar Town in 1986, but Copperhead Road kicked up the intensity to an entirely different level. The thing went off like a Claymore mine. Of course, that was in part because Steve himself was spinning out of control. Drugs nearly killed him. But damned if he didn’t make it back, clean and sober, and with the edge intact. That was an important inspiration for me when it came time for me to quit my own bad habit.
Weed is now legal in Oregon and elsewhere. Steve Earle is an elder statesman of Americana. A lot has changed. Yet, the songs are still as relevant as ever and Steve is still out there rockin’.
And, though exactly 30 years are gone, I still smell the whiskey burnin’ down Copperhead Road.