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The Secret To A Happy Ending

The Secret To A Happy Ending
A Barr Weissmann Documentary
(ATO Records)

By James Calemine

               "The secret to a happy ending
                Is knowing when to let the credits roll
                                   --Drive By Truckers

Barr Weissmann began this Drive By Truckers documentary in 2004. In the DVD liner notes, Weissmann revealed how this film transpired: "In February 2004, I wrote a letter which began a journey that has no ending. The letter (email actually) was sent to Jenn Bryant, asking if the Drive by Truckers would be willing to be the subject of a documentary. I explained who I was, my history as a filmmaker, and that I had never made a "rock doc" (whatever that is!) before.

"A troubled courtship ensued, and there were many moments when I thought it was time to just let it go (a feeling that would return several times in the years to come). But I couldn't let it go. And after a frenzied summit in Richmond, VA, in December 2004, (and my first visit with the magnificent Wes & Jyl Freed ) we all agreed to give it a shot." Weissmann later provided insight to his thread and intent of the film:

"In the end, I'll let the film speak for itself. It is what it is. The Secret To A Happy Ending? No one can answer that question. When I began the film I had a simple goal: to make a documentary and a concert film. Why? Because these folks do more than rock, they can write! And I believe that their songs have the power to break down walls, build bridges and illuminate the journey we all share. And when the going gets tough, they remind us, 'it ain't too late to take a deep breath, and throw yourself into it with everything you got.' Enough said."

A cast of essential characters such as David Barbe, Wes Freed, Dick Cooper, Jenn Bryant, John Neff and David Hood were all interviewed for this film. The Truckers hometown of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, family and musical ties are all mined and unearthed in this documentary. Patterson's father David served as the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section's bassist. TMSRS recorded with Willie Nelson, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Bob Segar, Cher, the Staple Singers and many others. David Hood's interviews in The Secret To A Happy Ending prove essential to the historic context of the Drive By Truckers.

This documentary was filmed mostly around the group's Decoration Day and The Dirty South era during a time when the Truckers were imploding. Yet, even amid turbulent times, the songwriting partnership of Hood and Cooley prevailed. This documentary preserves changes occurring within the band at the time. Concert footage in the film includes performances at the 40 Watt in Athens, the Fox in Boulder, the Alabama Theater in Birmingham, Bonnaroo in Tennessee and the Artscape in Maryland. The film drives home the price the Truckers have paid for their music as well as the strong emphasis on family, songwriting and soul that transcends time.

The Secret To A Happy Ending provides a seminal, historic and realistic look at the into the socioeconomic state of the areas around Muscle Shoals and Florence, Alabama. Footage at Patterson's grandfather's house--George A. Johnson--as George A. holds his granddaughter and Patterson talks about his childhood resonates on the film. Total honesty emerges in every scene. The Cooley and Morgan families are shown to be genuine sanctuaries, which gives each band member strength.

The Truckers album Southern Rock Opera is discussed along with George Wallace, Bear Bryant, Ronnie Van Zandt and what Patterson refers to as Southern Duality. Patterson mentioned in the film that around this time the band was not getting along all that well, but decided: "If we break up now--we're just a bunch of fuckin' losers who didn't follow-up on doin' what we said we were going to do." Songs "Get Your Ass On The Plane" and "Angels & Fuselage" revolved around Lynyrd Skynyrd's plane crash. Hood told the story of how the band played a gig on Sept 11, 2001, and these two spooky airplane songs were rendered live to an audience that wanted to spend this fateful American day with The Drive By Truckers. Then the band went on to tour for the next two years. Years of hard work on the road allowed the Truckers to experience a real dose of rock & roll...in front of the curtain and behind it...

Then Jason Isbell joined the band. "They were filthy, dirty, mean, miserable and wonderful," Isbell said of the time. Only a few songs from Decoration Day and The Dirty South make it into the documentary's soundtrack. It's an honest portrayal of a band struggling to maintain. The martial trouble between Isbell and bassist Shonna Tucker eventually strained the band, which led to Isbell's future departure. Footage from August 2005 during recording of their next album, A Blessing And A Curse was a time that Hood indicated: "Undeniably there were some problems within the band."

Hood wrote in the liner notes of this DVD about the band's state of affairs: "Barr ended up filming our band during the most troubled time in our history. We're all very private people (believe it or not) so the ideas of cameras rolling during something as personal as what we were going through was a painful and traumatic thing. It's not that we were openly fighting or anything like that. Most of the drama was the quiet kind. Passive aggressive silences are often far more destructive than a good knock-down drag out would be. The making of A Blessing And A Curse was fraught with non-communication and unproductive friction. There was no shortage of love, but the magic was gone. This period was probably the only time in 25 years that I have ever wanted to quit the band for an extended period of time. I know I wasn't the only one thinking about it."

The raw emotion simmers on the film. A fine line between brutality and gentleness exists in the Truckers music. In many ways, they don't give themselves enough credit, but again, that's the southern humbleness they still retain. Rightfully, the artwork of Wes Freed plays an integral role in this documentary, and especially the Truckers artwork and studio releases. "I listen to their music and see pictures," Freed mentioned. By 2006, Isbell departed the Truckers. The film includes footage of Isbell with his band the 400 Unit. The Secret To A Happy Ending ends around 2007. It would've been interesting to have the last couple years of the band's on goings included in the film, but we must be thankful for this fine documentary as it is because these projects are extremely difficult, expensive and time-consuming.

The Secret To A Happy Ending is not just about one of America's greatest rock & roll bands--the Drive By Truckers--but a very historic and glorious region of The South...


The Six Degrees of Swampland: The Drive By Truckers

The Drive By Truckers: The Big To-Do

Jerry Wexler And Muscle Shoals Music by Dick Cooper 

2010 Swampland Patterson Hood Interview 

related tags

Mystery and Manners,
Muscle Shoals,

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