The Secret to a Happy Ending
Northwest Film Forum
August 13-15, Daily at 7, 9:15 PM
Drive-By Truckers is a musical family affair; not just because inspired leader singer/songwriter Patterson Hood is the son of extremely supportive Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section bass player David Hood, or the fact that he has been collaborating with fellow Shoals, North Alabama vocalist/guitarist Mike Cooley for decades. DBT is an extended filial force driven by a web of affection and responsibility within the band — which also includes another vivid vocalist and tunesmith, Jason Isbell, married to bass player Shannon Tucker; and longtime drummer Brad Morgan — and a deep connection to their fans.
Not everyone might remember their embryonic days as Adam’s Housecat, when Hood and Cooley first set up shop in Athens, GA, but this movie spends plenty of time establishing the connections and passionate relationships that went into the material that became their first wildly noteworthy release, Southern Rock Opera. That essential alternative-Americana double length came out the day after 9/11, and famously channeled the triumphs and trauma that fueled the controversial and inspiring personalities and music of Lynyrd Skynyrd.
The performance of that history changing meditation on the Southern Thing’s awesome finale “Angels and Fuselage” is the emotional peak to The Secret of a Happy Ending, where Hood’s Neil Young-like voice imagines “angels in the trees” as their Alabama forebears’ plane descends into a fiery damnation. After excellent DBT concert footage of storming tracks chatting and growling about factory life, joblessness, musical career ups and downs, relationship struggle, and more from the meth-soaked sticks, this release prepares you for the awesome twists and turns near the end of this documentary.
Personally, my favorite subtext to the film are found in the conversations with the artists who hang out with the band and design their flyers, album covers, and inserts: Wes Freed and Patrick Hood, among others, drunken-joyfully rhapsodize the appeal of the band for like-minded rebels from their region, and how it appeals to those aware of class attack and bad luck elsewhere. Their paintings and illustrations also aid in convincing the viewer that the Drive-By Truckers are deeply blessed not only by musical genes and stoic muscle from being road warriors, but are rooted into a fecund-creative American South based in raging ideas as much as torrid waste. It’s truly punk, rock, and country, all at the same time. Those ideas are otherwise best exemplified by DBT’s live performances (some of the band members are habitually given to veiling through etiquette and homily during interviews), which shouldn’t be missed.
The Secret to a Happy Ending devotes itself to DBT and their three long, solid years of touring and recording much of their finest work; through national anomie and the horrors of divorce, scraping close to shattering apart. Don’t miss it for the sound and the fury in the theaters, and hope that more of what was captured live makes it to the DVD release.