It’s been three years since prolific singer-songwriter Steve Earle and country star Allison Moorer divorced. But for Earle, the pain of that loss is still very much alive.
In a revealing interview with The Guardian, the 62-year-old musician got candid about his relationship with Moorer —his sixth wife, seventh marriage (he wed Lou-Anne Grill twice), and the woman identified as the love of his life.
The two had a whirlwind romance and were together for eight years (the longest of any of Earle’s marriages). Both musicians, they often toured side-by-side. Earle would even famously introduce Moorer on stage with a love song written for her called “Sparkle and Shine,” singing, “My baby sparkle and shine / And I can’t believe she’s mine.”
His new record, So You Wanna Be an Outlaw, draws heavily on his recovery their breakup — which Earle says was Moorer’s doing. “They all draw on that relationship,” he explained. “This isn’t the first time I’ve gotten dumped. And I’ve left people too, which has its own set of lows and guilts. This record is more about coming to terms with loss.”
Earle and Moore have one child together: a 7-year-old son named John Henry, who was diagnosed with autism at 23 months. John Henry loves playing the drums, Earle said, and has a passion for water. Like some children living with the disorder, Earle said his son is largely non-verbal and not easily controllable.
Even after divorce, the three still live in New York City — where Earle believe John Henry will receive the best schooling. He said the decision to be in the Big Apple was a sense of conflict between him and Moorer. “She resents being in New York,” Earle claimed. “She wants to leave New York and thinks I’m trying to control her life. I’m not. I just don’t want John Henry to leave New York.”
Asked how his son’s autism contribute to their split, Earle called it “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
“I think she was going to leave me anyway,” he said. “She traded me in for a younger, skinnier, less talented singer-songwriter.”
Caring for John Henry demands much of Earle’s time, but has also given him a renewed sense of purpose. “I know why I get up in the morning now: to figure out a way to make sure he’s going to be alright when I’m gone,” Earle said. “That’s my job. That’s what I do.”
“Autism is the center of my life, apart from recovery,” he added. “They are the two things that control my life.”
Recovery for Earle means many things — mostly his 22-year stretch of sobriety, which he said he still works hard at with yoga and gym workouts every day, and a 12-step program practiced wherever he is when touring.
The country rocker had previously battled addictions to drugs including heroin, cocaine, and LSD — spending between $500 and $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,” Earle revealed. “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.”
Drug addiction cost Earle nearly everything in the early ’90s, as he pawned all of his possessions he earned from his success in the late 1980s (including bikes, cars, guitars, and jewelry) to feed his habit. “I sold them to buy heroin,” Earle said. “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.”
Living on the street for nearly two years, his home uninhabitable and without electricity, Earle was eventually arrested in 1994 and sentenced to a year in jail for weapons and drug possession. After serving 60 days, he would continue to battle his drug demons for a few years before getting sober.
Now, he jokes that his bandmates don’t socialize much with him on tour because he’s so dull.
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Aside from music, Earle has an active career as a novelist, playwright, and actor (he famously played Walon on The Wire). He’s currently working on his autobiography.
And though he’s dating, Earle says he has no plans to walk down the aisle anytime soon. “I dodged a bullet recently,” he said. “There are women. But I like sitting where I want to in the movies and when you go to the theater at the last minute you can get a really good seat if you’re looking for a single. If I go to a baseball game I can stay for the whole thing.”
“Being single in New York City doesn’t suck,” he continued. “I’m lonely sometimes, but I’m on the road half the time and that’s pretty lonely anyway.”
So You Wanna Be an Outlaw is out June 16.