The Drive-by Truckers capped their near-perfect post-millennial run with 2010’s The Big To-Do, which was one of my favorite albums in my favorite year for music since the century turned.
Apparently one of the last tracks written for it, Mike Cooley’s “Birthday Boy” is yet another in his long list of character studies.
This one’s about a world-weary stripper who doesn’t take shit from nobody:
“Which one’s the birthday boy?”
She said, “I ain’t got all night
What’d your mama name you?
You can call me what you like”
With two of the three guitars ringing like early R.E.M. and other one crunching through, “Birthday Boy” contrasts its down-to-earth subject matter with a grand and glorious sound, centered by Cooley’s deep voice as he observes:
The pretty girls from the smallest towns
Get remembered like storms and droughts
That old men talk about for years to come
I guess that’s why they give us names
So a few old men can say they saw us rain when we were young
That’s pretty cynical, I know, but probably not so far off the mark, especially from somebody who is making her living leveraging her prettiness.
“Birthday Boy” performed live on “Later With Jools Holland,” 2010