Drive-By Truckers: The Secret To A Happy Ending

The secret to a happy ending is knowing when to roll the credits
Better roll ’em now before something else goes wrong

Patterson Hood of Drive-By Truckers, World of Hurt (2006)

Like an episode of VH1‘s Behind The Music, this documentary takes you on a roller coaster ride through the history of the Athens, Georgia based Drive-By Truckers.  From Patterson and Cooley‘s humble beginnings with Adam’s House Cat (which some hilarious pictures), to the addition of Brad, John, Shonna and Jason.  From self-releasing their material to shopping Southern Rock Opera ; from just scraping to get by to debuting on the Billboard Top 40 with Brighter Than Creation’s Dark.  There is footage of Jason Isbell talking about how this band would never exist in any other form and there is footage of Jason Isbell talking about why he had to leave.

The difference between that cable show and this enthralling documentary film is there is no ‘average Joe‘, ‘rock star‘, bottom falls out, redemption arc.  Real life just doesn’t fit into that little mold.  The Truckers have had euphoric moments throughout the years and heartache throughout the years.  Every  day brings new joy and new pain.

The film spends a lot of time on family.  Immediate and extended family (and friends) have a heavy influence on the band.  Every member of the band is or has been married.  Patterson and Cooley have children.  This makes being on the road quite difficult and puts a lot of strain on the family unit.  Patterson is very close with his extended family as well, which comes out in his songwriting quite a bit.  Jason and Shonna were married and in 2006 that marriage ended and less than a year later his position in the band went the same direction.  All of this is documented in the film.  I now understand why they all signed off on this film, but agreed they never wanted to see it again.  A lot of painful stuff going on here.

An hour and a half chock full of the stories behind some of their best songs, family life, life on the road, internal struggles, personal relationships between the members and family, one-on-ones and concert footage.  This film really does have everything.

In the beginning of the film Isbell give a hypothetical of someone interviewing with Drive-By Truckers…(I am paraphrasing here) “well, you see, there are 3 guitarists and they all write and sing their own songs.  These guys are in their 40’s and these ones are in their 20’s.  One of these guitarists is married to the bassist.” He could have added that “we write songs about the South, but they apply to life everywhere”.  I don’t think too many aspiring musicians would be quick on hop on that wagon!

I have to admit I was exhausted from rafting The Royal Gorge all day, so by the time I took my seat at the Foothills Art Center in Golden (part of Docuwest) last night I wasn’t sure I’d make it through the film.  But once the movie started rolling, I was fascinated.  I had heard most of these stories before, but to hear them from the band itself made them real.  Barr Weissman did a great job documenting his 3 years with the Truckers.  The only complaint I have is that he seemed to skip right over the Decoration Day and The Dirty South years…but I guess you can’t fit everything in.

One of the last quotes in the film is still one of my favorites and exemplifies the fact that Cooley writes ‘such profound truth’s’ into his songs…

‘Rock ‘N Roll means well, but it can’t help tellin’ little boys lies’

It’s not a glamorous life but it doesn’t seem they’d have it any other way, at least for the time being.

Patterson Hood – A World of Hurt (live in Athens, 2006)