American Band: How The Drive-By Truckers Saved A Life
This is not really a review of the newest Drive-By Truckers album American Band. It's more of a story about that time that DBT saved someone's life. It's a story that hasn't been told before. Now is the time.
Late 2015/early 2016 was a very hard time in Hank's life. He was stuck in a job he hated. He suffered from severe financial difficulties. His personal relationships were strained. He was losing someone that he considered a best friend. His band of 7 years broke up and along with it, his one creative outlet. The news about the death of one of his musical idols broke on his birthday. The stress of daily life had become so crushing that Hank no longer cared about anything. After being extremely optimistic his entire life, this new path was completely foreign to him. For the first time in his life, he felt completely alone despite never being by himself. He was never fulfilled. He started doing things he had never done before, being more spontaneous. Trying to find anything to help fill the hole that he couldn't even verbally explain.
He didn't talk to many people about what he was feeling. He didn't want to burden people. The one person he opened up to ended up pushing him away. He was moody. He was depressed. He wouldn't say that he was suicidal but for the first time in his life he understood why people would go through with it. If he didn't get off that road, it's very possible that he was speeding to his final destination.
Then, on March 19, 2016, his life changed. He was driving to work that morning listening to the Drive-By Truckers live album in preparation for that afternoon's performance by the band during his city's St. Patrick's Day festival. He heard a song that he had heard a million times before. All of a sudden, the lyrics grabbed him. Someone understood. Someone put it into terms he could understand. Someone understood that despite how shitty life can be, there's always some beauty to be seen if you just look. There's always a chance. Despite how bad things could be, "it's fucking great to be alive." "World of Hurt" became Hank's mantra. Every line of that song was a perfect snapshot of exactly where Hank was at this point of his life.
From his front row vantage point, Hank got to witness another performance of the band that inadvertently became one of the most important bands of his life. The performance was full of energy and life. It was rock. Hank knew he was in for a good time when the band launched into one of the songs that he desperately wanted to hear off of their English Oceans album, "Hearing Jimmy Loud."
As the show progressed, guitarist/vocalist Patterson Hood (the man behind "World of Hurt") told a story about the next song they were going to play. It was from their upcoming album. It was a very political song about the rash of killings of unarmed black men that seemed to be happening more and more frequently. When they played "What It Means," Hank stood there with his mouth wide open. It was the first time he had heard this song and it had already made a mark on him. The same band that spoke to him that very morning about the beauty of life was up on stage in front of him and thousands of others and taking a stand. To hear those sentiments coming with a southern accent meant so much to a southern man like him. Once again, this band understood him. With lyrics like, “If you say it wasn’t racial when they shot him in his tracks/ Well I guess that means that you ain’t black/ It means that you ain’t black” it's clear that these guys mean business this time around.
Released on September 30, 2016, American Band takes shots at the NRA, the confederate flag that was flying over the Columbia, SC capital building, school shootings, Toby Keith and exploiting people's patriotism. Throughout the album, Mike Cooley and Hood frame their songs in historically rich stories that point a very direct finger back at modern day America. This is without a doubt the most straight forward political album of a career filled with more subtle politics. They've already received backlash from "What it Means." That's a very good thing. If you can get them talking, that's at least a start. It's clear that things have to change and DBT are doing their part in starting the dialogue among their fan base.
As it stands, this may be the most pissed off the Truckers have sounded on album. It's the sound of a band reborn. It's exactly what American rock music needs. It's exactly what America needs right now.
The final song on the album coincidentally deals with the subject of suicide. It's a song that Hank appreciates.
To bring this full circle, Hank isn't in the clear completely. However, he's not traveling down that mean highway anymore. He's working every day to realize the beauty that this fucked up world has to offer. He'll be ok.
For the record, I am Hank and I now fully realize the power of music.