There's Party Music, Then There's After The Party Music
"Mean and strong like liquor.
Mean and strong like fear.
Strong like the people from South Alabama
Mean like the people from here.
Take it from me
We ain't never gonna change"
Frequent John Boy & Billy guests The Drive-By Truckers will appear on Letterman Friday night (March 12), evidently to promote their new album which comes out next week. I admit to being a fan, although their gritty alternative country-rock is not for all tastes. I hope you'll be able to catch them, so you can judge for yourself. Thinking about the Drive-By Truckers and about David Letterman, it reinforces some things about life's journey, and the dark whick follows the sunshine.
They're cut from the same cloth. Rebel cloth, or in DBT's case, rebel flag cloth. In the early 80's, David Letterman walked onto the warm and fuzzy talk show landscape, looked around, then extended a giant middle finger. "This is idiotic," he seemed to say to the viewers, "so let's you and me see what we can do to ridicule it." Talk show guests were used to being treated with reverence and responded in kind. Yes, there were exceptions (Don Rickles comes to mind) but basically, before Dave, the couch next to the host's desk was a sanctuary of goodwill, kissyface and mutual admiration.
That didn't last long. Letterman made great sport of popping his guests' bubbles. He was relenless in ridiculing their pompous lives, leading to Shirley MacClaine to tell him, "Cher was right. You ARE an asshole."
Likewise, many who came across The Drive-By Truckers didn't know what to think.They were the first alt.country rockers I ever heard who dared sing about AIDS. Their songs about standing up to the law were no 'wayward good old boys with a heart of gold' stuff like the Dukes Of Hazzard. It was "come on over here, Junior. We'll show you all the shit we learned from Buford Pusser." I imagine Steve Earle planting the seeds down Copperhead Road, and The Drive-By Truckers being the old boys who lived in the shack keeping watch.
"Mr. Phillips never said anything behind nobody's back
Like Damn it Elvis, don't you know?
Son, you ain't no Johnny Cash"
Lots of southern rock is about the good times, the parties, the friendy people who welcome you with open arms. Then there are the songs about what happens when you find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time, or when you drive down an unfamiliar road only to find yourself saying "oh, shit" under your breath.
That's where you'll find the Drive-By Truckers. If bands are tagged by chiches. their mantra might be "Y'all ain't from around here, are you?" The greatest Southern party bands make you feel as if you're sitting back with a smile, surrounded by friends, and looking forward to the adventures you'll have before the night is over. DBT music is about when all the good liquor is gone, you're slumped like a millstone in some stranger's living room and you're drinking warm Boone's Farm because it's the only fucking thing these assholes have left in their cooler. We've been there -- when you decide this party sucks anyway, but you're too pissed off and too wasted to get up and leave, which is okay because you have no where to go, anyway.
But you know, when those days are gone, you miss them. I learned far more about myself on those barren nights than I did at all the family reunions and happy gatherings. Still, they did suck.