john gellman photograph
By Steve Newton
Drive-By Truckers singer, songwriter, and guitarist Mike Cooley has never been one to pull punches when it comes to politicians who he feels deserve a shot to the head–or a knee to the nuts, for that matter.
I’ve been a huge fan of Cooley, and the band as a whole, ever since I first experienced them via 2001’s Southern Rock Opera, but Cooley’s politically minded songwriting really hit home for me when I heard his masterful takedown of George Dubya Bush on 2008’s Brighter Than Creation’s Dark. On “A Ghost to Most” he equated Bush’s warmongering ways to the racist evils of the KKK.
“Talking tough’s easy when it’s other people’s evil and you’re judging what they do or don’t believe/It seems to me you’d have to have a hole in your own to point a finger at somebody else’s sheet.”
On the Drive-By Truckers’ new album, American Band, the socio-political commentary is stronger than ever. Of course, the timing is right for that, considering the major turmoil and divisiveness gripping the good ole U.S. of A. Cooley is particularly concerned about the threat to American life posed by Donald Trump, although the thought of Trump getting elected doesn’t actually keep him up at night.
“I wouldn’t go that far,” says Cooley, on the line from his home in Alabama, “but it’s a grim reality. I’m pretty aware, I’m pretty astute when it comes to the flaws in American culture, but the fact that this many people really really take this guy seriously, or that they’re so bewildered… I don’t know. And these are not stupid people! It’s easy to look and say, ‘Oh it’s just a bunch of dumb rednecks’, and some of them are, but a lot of these people are college-educated people. These are people who have jobs that require intelligence, that think this moron, this television personality idiot, is a legitimate candidate for the most powerful office in the world.”
When this not-so-astute Canadian suggests that the possibility of a Trump win might come down to the fact that the other option, Hilary Clinton, isn’t so stellar, Cooley gets a tad exasperated. “My god,” he replies, “is it that much worse? I mean, we’re all fed up with feeling like we’re forced to choose between the lesser of the two evils, but when the lesser is the one that might not be mentally ill… I’m serious! I’m not even joking! I think the guy might be fuckin’ crazy! You know, he acts like a crazy person. He doesn’t lie like a politician, he lies like a crazy person that has no idea what the truth is.”
A few months back I interviewed another amazing musician based in the southern U.S.–Susan Tedeschi of Tedeschi Trucks–who was similarly concerned about the possibility of a Trump presidency. I asked her whether, if that actually happened, she would consider moving up to Canada, but she said she would have to stay in Florida for her family’s sake.
So what about Cooley? Would he ever consider leaving the land he loves?
“I don’t know,” he replies. “I don’t want to. I would rather he fuckin’ leave, you know. If anybody’s gonna leave, I’d kinda rather fight for my right to stay, and kick their asses out. This is my house too, you know.”
The Drive-By Truckers play the Rickshaw Theatre in Vancouver next Sunday (October 2). For more from Cooley on Trump, stay tuned.