Too Much of Nothing: Essential Drive By Truckers # 1 (Patterson Hood)
"Heathens" is everything Patterson Hood represents as a musician, and serves as the perfect introduction to the Drive By Truckers. If I were putting together a DBT album, this track would undoubtedly be first. Hearing it first is like opening a can of sunshine on a humid day as the clouds roll over the green hills.
"Heathens" is warm, bittersweet, full of compassion, and rewards repeat listens. Hood recounts a story about him and his ol' neighborhood buddies drinking, getting a car stuck in ditch, and generally raising hell. Hood uses these events as a means to explore relationships, compassion, and life over the years.
There seems to be some sort of theme throughout the song that suggests Hood has been hanging with some people in low places for quite some time. He's comfortable there, but admits that "these times can take their toll sometimes/ And I know you feel the same way too/ It just gets so hard to keep between the ditches/ When the roads run the way they do". Aha, Hood's thesis-he's incredibly compassionate to the point of validating and understanding mistakes. It's hard to avoid those pitfalls when life leads you down certain paths based on circumstances, chance, whatever it may be.
A repetitive, sunny and warm guitar riff repeats as Mike Cooley's lead guitar darts around melodically like a butterfly. The music is simple and beautiful. As the repetitive, sunny riff continues at the end of the song, a wistful, slightly mournful violin is introduced along with a slide guitar as the song fades into the sunset.
Many of the songs Patterson Hood writes feel like a self-help book: Patterson is here to tell you that it's not only OK to be a screw-up, but there is value in embracing those imperfections as long as there's others along for the ride. A more mature emotional and spiritual outlook would follow in later DBT songs, but this one stands out as one of the best. Listen below: