The Year of the Trucker

I learned valuable insight last Thursday night at Webster Hall into why people quit their day jobs, sell their homes, buy a camper, and follow their favorite band on tour as a lifestyle.

The Drive-By Truckers played for just over two hours on April 1, 2010 in support of their new album The Big To-Do. My father and I attended the show and haven’t stopped talking, emailing, or texting about what an experience it was.

They took the stage modestly, quietly, humbled by our over-enthusiastic and drunk applause. They swigged from the handle of Jack Daniels being passed around from player to player. Patterson Hood, the front man, downed his Amstel Light, then grabbed the microphone and said, “Welcome to The Big To-Do” before banging the strings of his guitar, playing “The Fourth Night of My Drinking.”

The band consists of Shonna Tucker, Jay Gonzalez, Patterson Hood, Brad Morgan, John Neff, and Mike Cooley.

Looking around, I couldn’t help but notice that the crowd was peppered with all sorts of characters: NYU hipsters, business men in suits, 60 year old men, teenagers with facial tattoos, and every single one of us had beer in our hands. We all knew the words to the songs and pounded the floor with our feet.

When they played “Drag the Lake Charlie,” we all clapped at the one hand clap moment in the song. At the end of the song, we all screamed, “I’m almost out of Valium, courage and self-respect,” like we were reciting the Lord’s Prayer.

When they played songs with numbers in the lyrics, like “Zip City,” we all threw up our hands, the appropriate number of fingers (10) flashed high over our heads: “I get ten miles to the gallon / I ain’t got no good intentions.”

When Patterson Hood would smile that all consuming infectious smile, the kind that can swallow the world whole, we smiled back, trying to find remaining worlds to swallow.

When Shonna played “(It’s Gonna Be) I Told You So” we raised our beer into the air, toasting to yet another terrific and surprising song from Shonna, so inherently different from Hood and Cooley tracks.

When the Beer Man made his way through the crowd, like the Beer Man at a baseball game selling us our drinks so we wouldn’t lose our spots in front of the stage, we all crowded around him, shaking dollar bills in his face for another cold one.

When we finished our beer, we either kicked them to the floor or threw them into the air. Some of us even threw them on stage. Not to hit the band. But in celebration of rock and roll. In celebration of the moment.

Steadily, the band played tracks off of almost every album.

From Gangstabilly:
“The Living Bubba”

From Pizza Deliverance:
“One of These Day”

From Southern Rock Opera:
“Dead, Drunk and Naked”
“Zip City”
“Let There Be Rock”

From Decoration Day:
“Sink Hole”
“Marry Me”

From The Dirty South:
“Carl Perkins’ Cadillac”
“Lookout Mountain”

Nothing from A Blessing and a Curse:
Not surprisingly

From Brighter Than Creation’s Dark:
“Self Destructive Zones”

And then from The Big To-Do:
“The Fourth Night of My Drinking”
“Birthday Boy”
“Drag the Lake Charlie”
“That Wig He Made Her Wear”
“This Fucking Job”
“Get Downtown”
“(It’s Gonna Be) I Told You So”
“The Flying Wallendas”

As the night went on, the band drank more and played louder, hitting their instruments harder, ran around the stage faster, jumped higher. We watching did the same.

The Drive-By Truckers are essentially country-punk rock, stepping on the shoulders of their forefathers of The Band and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, who the Truckers, coincidentally, are opening for this summer. Their music is medicinal. For me, their music is medicinal. They taught me that I can tell any story in this world however I want to tell it, so long as I am authentic in the spirit of the narrative. They are the epitome of what rock music used to be and a call to these modrock American Idol motherfuckers, like Daughtry, to do better.

The last thing Patterson said after the encore songs of “The Flying Wallendas” while he wore a Ring Masters top hat, the soulful sing along of “Let There Be Rock,” the thunderous “Lookout Mountain,” and the passionate fury of “People Who Died,” was “That’s right motherfuckers. We’re playing New York City on New Year’s Eve.”

My first thought then and my latest thought as I write this: I would quite my job right now, buy a camper and follow them around the country because waiting until New Year’s Eve to see them perform another entertaining and moving show is criminal.

This is the year of the Trucker.

About J. R. Angelella

J. R. Angelella is the author of the popular debut novel ZOMBIE: A NOVEL (Soho Press) and a contributing author to the murder-mystery anthology WHO DONE IT? (Soho Teen), benefiting the nonprofit organization 826NYC. His short fiction has appeared in numerous journals, including Sou’wester, JMWW, The Collagist, Literary Review, Fifth Wednesday Journal and The Nervous Breakdown. His short story “Sauce” won the 2012 Short Story Contest held by The Coachella Review. He received a BA in English Literature from Ithaca College and an MFA in Creative Writing and Literature from the Bennington Writing Seminars at Bennington College. He taught creative writing at the Gotham Writers’ Workshop in New York City and currently teaches professional writing at the University of Maryland at College Park. He lives in Baltimore with his wife, the writer Kate Angelella.
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