“Traumatizing To Justin’s Loved Ones” – Widow Of Justin Townes Earle Blasts Jason Isbell For His “Tribute” Song, “When We Were Close”

Jason Isbell
Alyssa Gafkjen

The family of the Justin Townes Earle is speaking out about Jason Isbell‘s “tribute” to the late singer – and the pain it’s caused them.

The son of Steve Earle and an incredible singer and songwriter in his own right, Justin passed away in 2020 after what was later revealed to be an overdose from fentanyl-laced cocaine.

And last year, Jason Isbell released “When We Were Close” on his acclaimed album Weathervanes, and though his name is never mentioned, the song is a reflection on his relationship with Justin Townes Earle.

But it’s one his family isn’t happy about.

Isbell performed the song during an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live last year, and the song has also been on the setlist for his live shows since it was released. And recently, he discussed “When We Were Close” in an interview:

“When We Were Close, that song, I’ll mention this now because I don’t want it to come back up. That song was one of those where I had to say, ‘How many victims if I tell the truth? How many victims if I don’t?’ And then you make that choice.

Because the song has to exist. I don’t know why, but I decided on that a long time ago because that’s what I do, that’s who I am. So usually you make less victims than if you don’t.”

But in a Facebook post, Justin’s widow Jenn Marie Earle (one of the “victims” of the song that Isbell was referencing) spoke out on his comments and gave her thoughts on the painful wounds that are opened by the song:

“Being the said “victims” he is speaking of, I felt that in response, it is time to share my feelings on this song, the impact it has had on us, and why we had such a strong, visceral, and extremely painful reaction to it that has continued now, almost a year later since it’s release last June.”

She mentioned that one verse in particular was especially painful for Justin’s family to hear, taking exception with Isbell mentioning their daughter as he sings about her husband’s death:

“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
That left you on the bathroom tiles…

It’s not up to me to forgive youFor the nights that your love had to live throughNow you’ll never need to look me in the eye”

And she also points out that Isbell and Justin were estranged for many years before he passed away, after the former friends had a bitter falling out. That, she says, makes it difficult to understand why the song “had to exist,” as Jason claimed in the interview – and took particular exception with the mention of their daughter:

“Jason stating that the song “had to exist” seems very inappropriate and hard to comprehend from my viewpoint when you take that into account. Especially mentioning our daughter (a complete gut punch, something Justin would have no doubt been extremely upset about)…and then immediately following Etta’s mention with grotesque graphic details of his death that 1. were absolutely unnecessary 2. were not released to the public (and the details were incorrect) 3. that it is not “his truth” to share, being completely removed from the situation for years up to Justin’s death.

It was really no one’s right except for mine, which I did share immediately following the dreadful news, at a time when I could barely think, much less handle the public, but I knew it had to be done. For his fans, and as a warning to others so that he did not pass in vain.”

She also says that she didn’t receive any warning that the song was coming out, and that after it was released she tried to let Isbell know how painful it was in the hopes that he wouldn’t continue to push the song – but that Isbell didn’t acknowledge the message and has seemed to do the opposite:

“However, we learned (due to being tagged in posts, etc) that he was opening most shows with it, and then to our complete shock he chose it as the song to play on Jimmy Kimmel on the first show back after the writer’s strike, undoubtedly to a massive audience – putting the song front and center.

That was one of the most painful moments following, because it was clear then that he did not care that this song was traumatizing to Justin’s loved ones and was actually pushing the song above all of the others on the album. He could have chosen any other song.

Also, on top of this, he is profiting off of it which I don’t think I need to go into why I have such strong negative feelings about that.”

Earle’s widow says she has repeatedly tried to contact Isbell to discuss her issues with the song, but so far he hasn’t responded or acknowledged them, other than mentioning the “victims” in his interview about “When We Were Close.”

“Since that time, 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 it has lead to moments that I can’t bear to share), something she will deal with for the rest of her life. 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.”

She ends by saying that there’s a difference between other “tribute” songs to her husband, and the one Isbell released, and that she’s not sure why this song “had to exist,” as he claims:

“There have been such beautiful, heart-felt songs created in his honor, so we know the difference between what Jason wrote and what a real tribute looks like, because none of the others have kept us up at night or sent our daughter into tears. He did not have to write this song, it did not have to exist, but if he really felt that it was necessary, a heads up beforehand would have been greatly appreciated.

Also, even though he has finally acknowledged that there are “victims,” he has still not so much as texted me an apology and I just can’t wrap my head around why someone wouldn’t extend that simple and small act of kindness. We deserve that at the very least. We’ve been through the unimaginable and certainly didn’t need this on top of it, but an apology would have been some sort of consolation at least.”

And she also followed it up with a video where she further discussed the pain that the song has caused for her and her daughter, and her reason for being so hurt by it:

“I don’t need to be mentioned in the song, my daughter certainly doesn’t need to be mentioned in the song…This was just so gruesome. We don’t need to be reminded of the details of Justin being dead on a floor moments after he mentions my daughter…

It’s just inappropriate.”

So far it doesn’t appear that Jason has responded to the criticism – either in public or privately with Justin’s family.

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock