Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
The song, This Fucking Job, on the Drive-By Truckers latest album, The Big To-Do, is essentially a synopsis of the great majority of characters that the Athens, Georgia, band has given us over its 14 very productive years of Southern gothic storytelling. Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley write songs about so many people whose most true and passionate thoughts every day relate to their poor and not improving lots in life. They live from paycheck to paycheck and their souls are decorated with the dead of winter. The same goes for their eyes more dead of winter. Theyre sunken and suspended in some kind of trance that doesnt reflect the spit and piss fire that Hood or Cooley, or the extraordinary band of John Neff, Brad Morgan, Shonna Tucker and Jay Gonzalez, put into their hearts in these songs. The thing about these characters is that they are trapped like rats most of the time and they exhibit a sort of inability to escape, yet when theyre within the confines of a Truckers song, they are raging and raging and raging against, not really the dying of the light, but the dim overhead head that makes it hard to make out the shape of anything. Its a very simple rage, one directed at just getting by a little easier than theyve been having to get by. These are people who just dont know what to do. Their hands are tied or theyve just thrown them up in the air. These are people who are either so god-fearing that it hurts, or theyve completely given up on the man or the idea long, long ago thinking that theres just no way that someone or something like that could possibly be out there because, well, look around, look at them. Were thrown into the turbulent waters of people not getting along with their lives and their lives, just as stubbornly, not getting along with them. Hood sings, during This Fucking Job, after suggesting that its just like getting kicked in the pants, vividly showing how the rub burns, acknowledging that the job is a nightmare, but no ones changing anything, Trying to hang onto the worst of places/But this family cant live on fast food wages. The fates of these minimum wagers are sealed by that feeling of utter desperation which the Drive-By Truckers are better at conveying than any other active American band that feeling that getting through another day is not an accomplishment, but an extension of the punishment being doled out by the unknown. Hood sings about dreams and postponements along the way in such a provocative way that we are spellbindingly captivated and needing to see these people through, reminding us both of our many troubles and maybe even more so, the troubles that weve seen and recognized as those that other people we know have. Were drawn into these fractured lives and are so interested by the kinds of people who are variations of those girls who got pregnant in high school and had to deal with that, along with the boys in high school who got those girls pregnant and had to deal with that. They are variations of the town drunks and the town drunks to be. They are versions of the preachers and the housewives, the believers and the sinners as we dont normally see them: tucked away in their minds den, wondering how theyre going to make anything ever work.