Certain Songs #363: Drive-by Truckers – “After The Scene Dies”

DBT Big To-Do Album: The Big To-Do
Year: 2010

I got lucky. Because I was a DJ on KFSR for much of the 1980s, wrote for various local zines, and eventually taught myself how to play the drums, I got to be part of Fresno’s music scene for about a decade.

Figure 1984, when bands started giving me tapes to play on the air through 1994, when I moved away.

I don’t know how many local bands I saw during that period, but despite being able to walk into the Wild Blue any early 1990s night that Don was on the door and watch whoever was playing, I still don’t think I saw everybody.

That’s the nature of a local scene: it has to keep moving forward. Bands get together, bands break up. New bands form from old bands, new people move into town as the old one leaves, and — as long as there are venues that will support live music — it can keep going forever.

But what happens if it doesn’t?

That’s what Patterson Hood’s “After The Scene Dies” is all about. And it’s even more trenchant that he’s talking Athens, GA, which we held up as a shining example for our scene.

Fueled by a riff like something off of Neil Young’s Zuma, he paints the picture:

When the graffiti on the back stage wall
Gets painted over in a muted shade
And the club becomes an Old Navy
After the scene dies

When the last six-string slinger
Has to bow down for insurance
And accept the mundane
After the scene dies

When I moved away in 1994, I hadn’t been in a band for nearly two years, the Wild Blue had closed, and I was already using the internet to communicate with other music fans from around. For me, the Fresno scene was dying, and all I knew is that if didn’t want it to be the peak experience of my life, I needed to get the hell out of there.

When the front man turns to Jesus
And the drummer moves away
I’ll still be doing what pleases me
After the scene dies

20 years later, Facebook shows me that many of my friends who were in bands back then are still at it, one way or another. Is it a scene? Or is it a collection of musicians doing what pleases them? There is absolutely no way for me to know. Is there a scene that they don’t know about? All I can do is wonder what would have happened had I not left.

I once wrote a very long, very depressing short story about that: the alternate universe where I refused to accept the death of the scene, and kept going out night after night, looking for something that had passed me by.

When the last one leaves
And the last note fades
And the last dream’s been put away
Shut the light off, shut the light off

Ooooooooh ooooooh ooooooh After the scene dies
Ooooooooh ooooooh ooooooh After the scene dies
Ooooooooh ooooooh ooooooh After the scene dies
Ooooooooh ooooooh ooooooh After the scene dies

I also always thought that “After The Scene Dies” was a tribute / parody / answer song aimed at their touring mates (and my other favorite band of the 2000s), The Hold Steady. After all, Craig Finn was always on about the Unified Scene, which has always felt like, 75 shades of optimistic.

Which, of course, makes sense for the Hold Steady. But not so much for Drive-by Truckers, who have always had a darker view of the world. Which is why I can imagine that it’s Patterson Hood asking Craig Finn — and really all of us who have ever been part of a scene:

What you gonna do when the club shuts down?
What you gonna do when the club shuts down?
What you gonna do when the club shuts down?
After the scene dies

Me, I moved away. Not simply because the club shut down, but because of what the club shutting down represented to me — an opportunity to use everything superficially changing to make some actual change in my life.

“After The Scene Dies”

“After The Scene Dies” performed live in 2014


Patterson Hood talking about “After The Scene Dies”

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