Monthly Archives: February 2020

Eye For An Eye

 

Charlie Craddock stood on his wharf and looked out over Barnacle Bay with two clear eyes. It was the morning of his seventieth birthday. The day was bright and he could see schools of mullet in the water. He threw his casting net toward the shore and caught several but decided to release them back in the bay. Honor thy fish, he thought. His wife Tammy never had a taste for mullet anyway (“a trash fish,” she snobbishly would say) and he sure as hell wasn’t grilling on his birthday. Today was a day for fishing.

Read the rest at Little Old Lady Comedy here.

New Skin for the Old Ceremony

The night before the release of The Unraveling, the new album from Drive-By Truckers that dropped January 31, Patterson Hood posted a picture to Instagram of the New York City skyline at night. He captioned the photo: “Thirty-one years ago, Lou Reed’s New York album was one of my two favorite albums of the year. Neil Young’s Freedom was the other one. Both of those album politically pointed to this current moment in time … Within a week there will be Brexit, the Iowa 2020 caucus and most likely Trump’s acquittal. The soul of America has been sold out (to paraphrase Marianne Faithful) ‘for such a low bid.’”

Lou Reed’s New York, generally regarded as one of his stronger solo efforts, documents the dark underbelly of Gotham in the late ’80s, turning its lens on the city’s street denizens and working-class hustlers, the folks struggling to pay rent to a landlord “who’s laughing till he wets his pants.” The album could’ve been written yesterday. As Reed sings on “Dirty Boulevard”: “Give me your hungry, your tired, your poor, I’ll piss on ‘em/ that’s what the Statue of Bigotry says/ Your poor huddled masses, let’s club ‘em to death/ and get it over with and just dump ‘em on the boulevard.”

Young’s Freedom, the more well-known of the two, opens and closes with acoustic and electric versions of “Rockin’ In The Free World,” respectively. It’s a song the Truckers uncork regularly in concert these days and it works as a sort of thematic centerpiece to the live show.

The Unraveling — the title of which recalls liberal economist Paul Krugram’s 2003 book The Great Unraveling — is very much in the spirit of the Young and Reed efforts. It’s also a suitemate of sorts to the band’s 2016 release American Band, the group’s most pointedly political album up to that point and one that attempted to grapple with hot-button issues of the republic like gun control and Black Lives Matter.

The Unraveling was recorded in a mere six days at Sun Studios in Memphis, and the immediacy shines through. The album is mostly a Hood affair, with co-principal songwriter Mike Cooley contributing just two songs. The opening track “Rosemary With A Bible And A Gun,” a Southern Gothic travelogue that recalls Springsteen’s Nebraska and namechecks Memphis photographer William Eggleston, is a bit of an outlier on the record. Cinematic in its scope, it’s a cryptic story that sets the tone for what’s to follow. The next song, “Armageddon’s Back In Town,” is a dirty rocker about the return of Reagan-era, Cold War paranoia, with Hood lamenting that “you can’t tell the rabbit from the hat” in his trademark Southern rasp. “Thoughts and Prayers,” the album’s first single, deals with the failure of the political establishment to take action on societal horrors like mass gun violence, while “21st Century USA” chronicles the dry rot of small-town life, painting Anytown, America as a place of Wells Fargos, KFCs, payday loan centers, and shitty bars, populated by folks working for shrinking pay while awaiting the return of the Savior. “Heroin Again” laments an acquaintance’s relapse on a drug that is finding its ways into new corners of American society as painkiller addictions rage and scripts get harder to come by.  “Babies In Cages,” a title that could be the authoritarian state writ large, is a plaintive cry of the heart, with Hood singing, “This ain’t the country our grandads fought for us to be.”

The Truckers, now 12 albums deep in a career full of twists and turns, have never been shrinking violets when it comes to politics, which is something of a rarity for rock bands from the American south. The group’s breakthrough double-album Southern Rock Opera was a deeply political affair, one could argue, exploring what Hood called “the duality of the Southern thing.” Hood was born in the Muscle Shoals region of Alabama in 1964, the year of the passage of the Civil Rights Act, a watershed piece of legislation that tilted much of the white, working-class south in the direction of the Republican party. Southern Rock Opera explored the nuances of race and politics throughout Alabama history, referencing everyone from Lynyrd Skynyrd to George Wallace, a politician now regarded as a forerunner to Trump. As The Unraveling drops, three Alabama politicians are vying for the Republican nomination for Senate, all of them desperately trying to out-Trump one another, with former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville suggesting Trump was chosen by God to be president, House Rep. Bradley Byrne running a series of blatantly racist ads that go well beyond dog-whistling, and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions championing the record of a president who kicked him to the curb like a mangy dog. Clearly, not much has changed in the neighborhood.

“This is no time for circumlocution, this is no time for learned speech,” Lou Reed sings on New York. The Truckers would seem to agree. The Unraveling is as hard-boiled and direct as anything they’ve written, and there are no words minced. Politics and art have always been tricky bedfellows, and some artists come up short in their efforts, with the music amounting to nothing more than cheap dogma and rhetoric. And while this isn’t the best Truckers’ album by a long shot, it is a pretty good one, and one that achieves its objective of holding the mirror up to a country that’s bargained so much of its soul.

In a recent interview with Forbes magazine, Hood said he wanted his kids to know which side of history he stood on when the smoke eventually clears. This album makes it abundantly clear.

Queen of the Double

 

“Queen Of the Double”
A Short Story by Caine O’Rear

Will Wise inhaled his tenth Budweiser in three swallows, paid his tab, lumbered to the bathroom and pissed, and then walked out to his truck parked in the dirt lot, a Ford 150 from the ’90s, cranking it up and pulling slowly onto Highway 100, the sun burning like a fireball at the bottom of the western sky, an old tune from Sammy Kershaw beaming on the dash, his thoughts running to the night before when he and April fought about a girl she thought Will liked who worked at the body shop, some chick named Camille who was barely 20 and dressed like the county girls did these days, all Daisy Dukes and skimpy pullovers, showing no respect for decorum or decency, April said, an observation Will couldn’t argue with, especially since his dalliance with a girl in their church group last year, a girl April called a fucking slut and one to whom she was distantly related and who she claimed invited the transgression Will had yet to live down, an episode the memory of which sent pangs of horror through his wet brain, then fading in a quicksilver flash with the chorus of the Kershaw tune kicking in, the imagery of the polyester curtains and redwood deck making him grin, the truck humming along at eighty miles an hour past the expanses of cotton on both sides of the highway, blankets of white at their peak before the November picking, the truck now floating across the center line from time to time, a paltry concern for a county boy on a county highway cruising along in his truck on a Friday night, not unlike most Friday nights since he was sixteen, pounding beers in some field or down by the creek or later at his uncle’s place just over in Lillian, where he met April at a party while being totally smashed on Jaeger, smashed enough to take her by the arm and whisk her down to the boathouse where he managed to take her bra off despite having one arm in a cast because he broke it that week in football practice, playing bull in the ring and going hard as all get out, and going hard that night in the boathouse, and falling in love with April, or so he told himself, a girl who had been with him since that night almost ten years ago, and then April getting pregnant at eighteen, walking the floor of the gym in cap and gown with a bump in her belly, more a hiccup than a world class disaster in their little zip code, and seeing in the rearview as he cruised along the carseat for their second child in the back of his cab, a reminder in the flash of the moment that maybe he should ease up on the throttle a bit, the last years of his life moving at a speed beyond his means to control them, and thinking of Camille at the body shop, and not even being tempted to go there but still enjoying the sight of that ass behind the desk up front when he walked in hungover at 10 every morning, a brief titillation before the monotony of fixing timing belts and spark plugs set in, a trade he learned from his father who passed away two years ago, dropping dead of a heart attack while hunting deer in Conecuh County, while only in his late 40s, a loss that Will still hadn’t reckoned with but one he thought about every time he lit up a smoke, his dad a heavy smoker all his life, a fact that surely exacerbated the heart disease that clipped his wings, and with these thoughts Will firing up a smoke, thinking what are you gonna do, the Kershaw song still playing, and Will turning up the music, louder, louder, still louder, and thinking if he ever found April with some Charlie Daniels with a torque wrench, he’d kill the motherfucker.