Certain Songs #361: Drive-by Truckers – “That Man I Shot”

brighter-than-creations-dark Album: Brighter Than Creation’s Dark
Year: 2008

There’s a reason that we demonize the people we go to war against. It’s to make it easier to think of them as “enemy combatants” and “casualties” as opposed to “human beings we are trying to kill.”

But, of course, no matter the justification for the war, no matter the righteousness of the war, no matter how the evil the enemy, they’re still “human beings we are trying to kill.”

That’s what “That Man I Shot” is getting at.

Over a hailstorm of guitars, Patterson Hood sets the scene:

That man I shot, he was trying to kill me
He was trying to kill me He was trying to kill me
That man I shot I didn’t know him
I was just doing my job, maybe so was he

That man I shot, I was in his homeland
I was there to help him but he didn’t want me there
I did not hate him, I still don’t hate him
He was trying to kill me and I had to take him down

It’s as simple as that. The guy in the song was doing his job. The man he shot would have killed him. As an individual act in a larger war, it was totally and completely justified on every level.

And yet, still:

That man I shot, I still can see him
When I should be sleeping, tossing and turning
He’s looking at me, eyes looking through me
Break out in cold sweats when I see him standing there

On and on the guitars rage angrily, offering no respite to the thoughts going through this guy’s mind, as he takes respite in the family he was doing his job for.

I hold my little ones until he disappears
I hold my little ones until we disappear
And I’m not crazy or at least I never was
But there’s this big thing that can’t get rid of

That man I shot did he have little ones
That he was so proud of that he won’t see grow up?
Was walking down his street, maybe I was in his yard
Was trying to do good I just don’t understand

Like the guy in their cover of “Mama Bake a Pie (Daddy Kill a Chicken)” this guy is broken by is war experiences. Just in a different way, and yet equally as devastating.

“That Man I Shot”

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