This song deals with Steve Earle
's feelings about the September 11, 2001 attacks on America. Speaking with Harp
magazine November 2002, he explained: "'Ashes to Ashes' is my 9/11 song, period. It's about the things that concern me – it's one of the songs that's about the things that concern me. For about maybe 45 minutes after everybody realized that the World Trade Center wasn't an accident, for once I think everybody in this country was on the same wavelength. For maybe 45 minutes.
If we're being honest, though, after 45 minutes, we all turned to our own agendas: How does this affect me, what am I personally scared of, and how is this gonna affect my life? The first thing I thought, when I started turning back to myself, was 'Oh, my God, we were finally starting to get somewhere with all of this work that me and everyone I know has been doing against the death penalty for all these years and it's getting' ready to go out the window because this f--king country is gonna be out for blood.' It's not turned out to be true because they're so focused on f--king with Arabs.
The second thing I worried about was my son. I wanted to know where he was. Because he's draft age and we do have registration for the draft in this country. We are set, since the Reagan years, to draft our kids. So I just didn't feel comfortable.
'Ashes to Ashes' is about the next thing that I started becoming concerned about, and the question I didn't hear asked, which is what would make someone hate us enough to fly an airplane full of people deliberately into a hundred story building. 'Ashes to Ashes' is about being the most powerful country in the world and it's the history lesson about what's happened to every other most powerful country in the world. The deal is, do we have to go the way of the Roman Empire? Do we have to go the way of... Britain?"