The opening tale from St John's bio, Hardcore Troubadour: The Life and Near Death of Steve Earle, of the country-rock hellion is the perfect hook: En route from Nashville to Manhattan to sign a career-reviving contract in 1992, Earle sells his plane ticket, scores crack, then vanishes into addiction for four years. Earle's 1986 debut, ''Guitar Town,'' had critics pronouncing him the next Springsteen. Problem was, Earle was chockful of talent, smarts, and self-sabotage -- hooked on everything from heroin to love. ''I've only been arrested about 50-60 times in my whole life,'' quips the now-thriving singer. St John uses her full access to Earle, his family, and even two of his five ex-wives to write a no-holds-barred portrait of a controversial artist who came back from the brink.