‘the secret to a happy ending is knowing when to roll the credits’

I first saw a screening of Secret To A Happy Ending: A Documentary about The Drive-By Truckers back in June of last year,  not long after we threw the Denver Listening Party for their newest album, The Big To-Do.  Also not long after the back-to-back Rock Shows.  Seven months later I have had a leaked version of the companion album, Go-Go Boots, on repeat and am gearing up for the second round of back-to-back Rock Shows at the Ogden in March.  This makes it the perfect time for the film to come back to town.

After seeing this documentary for the second time, I stand by the review I wrote back then, so I decided I would repost it.  I am still trying to figure out how I feel about the new album and seeing this movie made me realize how much I miss the Isbell-era of DBT, an era that ‘had to end‘ according to Patterson at the end of the film.  But even though the recorded work might never be as good as it was back then, it’s still better than 90% of what’s out there and the live shows still blow my mind!

(following originally posted June 27th, 2010)

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”. “no one would sign up!”

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.