OK, OK, OK, first things first. If we’re friends on Facebook then you probably know that the headline to this post is sarcasm. If you’ve been a fan of Drive-By Truckers for any length of time you know that they have a political bent in their lyrics and they aren’t afraid to speak out.
DBT have a record coming out in a couple of months and in the lead up to the release the band have done a few things that have gotten some fans all riled up for all the wrong reasons. The album is called American Band and is the first album since Alabama Ass Whuppin‘ to not feature Wes Freed artwork on the cover. The cover of American Band is a nearly black and white photo of an American flag. When the band posted a photo on Facebook about playing an event at the DNC the comment section explode with calls for the band to stop being political. Fans threatened to never go to another show or buy another record. A week or two later the band released the second song from American Band, “What It Means” and the lyric video created another stir in the comment section. (video at the bottom of this post)
I read the comments for fun but I totally understand if the negativity, ignorance and hate is to overwhelming for most folks. I don’t know how DBT acquired so many fans like that. I guess three guitars or a life of crime can overwhelm the lyrics of some many songs. People hear what they want to hear. Instead of calling DBT a political band I think they are a band that writes with a sense of social consciousness. I’ve talked to several diehard Lucero fans that have never really gotten into DBT. What I always say is that the fundamental difference between the bands is that Lucero is primarly writing about the internal life of an individual and DBT is writing about life outside the individual.
We don’t see the social consciousness side of DBT really emerge until Southern Rock Opera. Songs like “Birmingham,” “The Southern Thing,” and “Wallace” are the strongest examples of their worldview. One thing to note is that these songs are set in the past and maybe that allowed fans to accept some of the lyrical content. The two songs released from American Band are much more straightforward on the subject matter and on the stance. My guess is that the timeliness of the events being mentioned also fuel the lack of acceptance.
Fast forward to The Dirty South and the song “Puttin’ People On The Moon.” Maybe it’s easy to get wrapped up in the story about a guy selling drugs to feed his family while ignoring the nationwide conditions and policies that leads to that life. It’s in the song if you’re listening. But also by the time The Dirty South was released the band had also released enough songs that aren’t blatant social commentary that fans could have latched onto the band. Several of Jason Isbell’s songs fall into that category, “Outfit,” “Goddamn Lonely Love,” and “Never Gonna Change” jump out to me. But don’t think for a minute that I’m suggesting Jason hasn’t written songs that take a political stance. Look at the closer of his first solo album “The Devil Is My Running Mate.”
The Truckers popularity never really exploded, it was more like a slow and steady build, so there’s no way to pinpoint when a lot of fans that didn’t agree with the band’s politics started listening. The band is from the south, they rock and the are bold and brash. I guess finding these fans isn’t a huge shock but it’s still strange.
It feels like American Band might have songs on it that are more timely and less focused on the past. These are troubling times and artists with something to say are going to seize the moment. Remember when Steve Earle took the turn in his career and instead of being partly political he released the album The Revolution Starts Now? Well DBT might be at that point now. After that album no one was ever uncertain about where Steve Earle stood on things. It didn’t matter if you really loved “Guitar Town” and wanted more songs like that and more songs about girls. Earle decided that he had a message and if you wanted to see him live or listen to his new records you were going to get a fair amount of the way Earle sees the world.
I don’t think I listen to any artists whose politics I strongly disagree with. I was never a Ted Nugent fan or anything like that. I could be wrong because plenty of artists don’t advertise where they stand on social and political issues and I don’t know how learning something might affect my appreciation for their art.
But here’s the final point. What a lot of the dissenting voices in the comments’ section are spouting is factually, intellectually incorrect information that uses coded language to try and hide bigoted, racist sentiments and for that, they are wrong. Uniformed is not opinion. Intolerance is not a political opinion or religious belief, it’s just intolerance. DBT is speaking out in an effort to change the world for the better. The Clash did it before them, as did Bob Dylan and others. A song may not change the mind of anyone who’s writing in the comments’ section but not everyone hangs out in comment sections on Facebook, most people aren’t. They believe something and they’re incorporating it into their art. Good for them.