Music

Justin Townes Earle’s Widow Slams Jason Isbell’s ‘Extremely Painful’ Song About Late Musician

Justin Townes Earle’s widow, Jenn Marie Earle, excoriated Jason Isbell for his song about his friendship with the late musician, “When We Were Close,” and the “strong, visceral, and extremely painful reaction” the Earle family has had to it. 

“When We Were Close” appears on Isbell’s 2023 album, Weathervanes, and though it’s never overtly stated that it’s about Earle, the song’s lyrics detail a relationship that turned sour and mutual struggles with addiction. The lyrics also appear to reference Earle’s death from an accidental overdose in 2020 (a toxicology report cited a combination of alcohol and cocaine laced with fentanyl).

As Isbell has promoted Weathervanes, he’s frequently performed “When We Were Close” live, as well as during television appearances. While the Earle family hadn’t commented on it publicly, Jenn Marie finally shared a scathing statement on social media after Isbell spoke about why he felt he needed to write the song in a recent interview. 

Isbell, for his part, said that when he was writing “When We Were Close,” he was thinking to himself, “How many victims if I tell the truth, how many victims if I don’t?” He continued: “And then you make that choice. Because the song has to exist… Usually, if you tell the truth, you make less victims than if you don’t.” 

On Earle’s Facebook page, Jenn Marie shared that interview clip and wrote, “When you make my daughter cry, and you’re heartless and this is your response..I have so much more to say.”

In a follow-up note on Instagram, she highlighted a handful of lyrics that were particularly painful because of the way Isbell appeared to refer to Earle’s death and substance abuse specifically in terms of Jenn Marie and their 6-year-old daughter, Etta. (“I saw a picture of you laughing with your child/And I hope she will remember how you smiled/But she probably wasn’t old enough/The night somebody sold you stuff the left you on the bathroom tiles.” And, “It’s not up to me to forgive you for the nights that your love had to live through.”)

Jenn Marie called the nod to their daughter a “a complete gun punch, something Justin would have no doubt been extremely upset about.” She said Isbell’s depiction of Earle’s death was “grotesque,” “graphic,” “absolutely unnecessary,” and “incorrect,” adding: “It is not ‘his truth’ to share, being completely removed from the situation for years up to Justin’s death.” 

Jenn Marie went on to criticize Isbell for not reaching out to Earle’s family about the song before its release, acknowledging such a gesture wasn’t “mandatory” but would have been “a respectful thing to do” because of the references to herself and Etta. She went on to claim that while Isbell was “made aware that the song was extremely painful,” the family was disheartened to see him keep centering the song as he promoted Weathervanes

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“I as well as others have reached out to him personally, in an emotional plea to try to make him understand the trauma it has forced on our daughter (she has asked to hear it and has lead to moments that I can’t bear to share), something she will deal with for the rest of her life,” Jenn Marie wrote. “He has not responded, and then made the aforementioned statement, making it clear that he understands there are living, breathing victims. One of which is our innocent daughter.” 

Isbell, through a rep, declined to comment.

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