Almost a decade ago, I declared Drive-by Truckers my current favorite rock ‘n’ roll band, and since that time all they’ve done is release four great albums, a really strong odds ‘n’ sods compilation, and they have a career-spanning triple live album coming out while I’m writing about them.
No one cares, but Drive-by Truckers have turned out to be as consistently great of a band as America has ever produced, their legacy both unenlivened and untainted by the massive popularity their amazingly accessible music should have produced.
So let’s start with one of their great strengths, a Patterson Hood death song. “The Living Bubba” is from their very first album, 1998’s Gangstabilly, but I prefer the version on their first live album, Alabama Ass Whuppin’
The live version dedicates the song to its inspiration, Gregory Deal Smalley, who had played in a bunch of bands — including The Chant –and had recently died of AIDS. Patterson Hood still calls it the greatest song he’s ever written.
Why? Because “The Living Bubba” isn’t so much about a guy dying of AIDS as it is about a guy living every single ounce of his life doing what he loves. It’s the only way to die. Hell, it’s the only way not to die.
While it’s possible that the unexamined life isn’t worth living, it’s absolutely true that the unlived life ain’t worth examining.
I’m sick at my stomach from the A.Z.T.
Broke at my bank cuz that shit ain’t free
But I’m here to stay (at least another week or two)
I can’t die now cuz I got another show to do
Fuck. The way Hood sings “I can’t die now cuz I got another show to do” is simultaneously the saddest and the most uplifting thing I’ve ever heard. Especially with all of the guitars ringing out — a slide solo here, a wah-wah solo there — and the rough and ready lead and harmony vocals.
While I bought Southern Rock Opera first, it was this version of “The Living Bubba” that forever cemented Drive-by Truckers for me. We’re talking about a songwriting storyteller with a Westerbergian level of detail and the exact kind of rock ‘n’ roll orientation. Mine.
Some people keep saying I can’t last long
But I got my bands I got my songs,
Liquor, beer, and nicotine to help me along
And I’m drunk and stubborn as they come
Chain smoking, guitar picking, til I’m gone
I ain’t got no political agenda
Ain’t got no message for the youth of America
‘cept “Wear a rubber and be careful who you screw”
And come see me next Friday cuz I got another show…
When I hear “The Living Bubba” I don’t know whether to burst into tears or wave my hands, so instead I just sing it as loud as I possibly can. Sometimes doing both.
And I can’t die now cos I got another post to do.
“The Living Bubba” performed live in 2011
“The Living Bubba” (Alabama Ass Whuppin’ version)
“The Living Bubba” peformed live in 2014 (Audio only)