With a new tribute album out, Steve Earle talks about his "tor-mentor".
To all but a handful of his closest friends Van Zandt was a remote, elusive figure, apt to disappear and turn up with equal unpredictability. As mentor to Mr. Earle he was hardly a steady, guiding hand, and he was much too stoic to dispense sage advice about songwriting or anything else. The premise of their relationship was something like, if I didn’t think you were good enough to do it yourself, you wouldn’t be here. He did, however, recommend that Mr. Earle always put the top back on the bottle so that the alcohol wouldn’t spill when it inevitably got kicked over and, when injecting drugs, to use clean needles every time.
He also instructed Mr. Earle to read “War and Peace,” though Van Zandt had not read the book himself, as Mr. Earle discovered to his surprise when he dutifully returned with questions about it. “I just thought you should,” Van Zandt idly told him.