Quadrophonia: Just “Livin’ the Dream”, man… Just “Livin’ the Dream”…
Thanks to William D. Anderson for getting us off on the right foot with his look at “Life of Sin.” After reading it, I thought to myself…man, I’ve got work to do on the next song. That was really, really good. So, here it goes. Here’s my stab at another Sturgill song on our cosmic journey through “Metamodern.” Let’s start livin’ the dream.
First off, “Living the Dream” is a song that, after listening to it, gives me a certain swagger throughout the day. It’s the quintessential groove track that leaves one with borderline whiplash after listening. Much like a few other tracks on “Metamodern”, “Living the Dream” is characterized by racing guitars, Bobby Emmett/Jeff Crow working a Hammond B3 (really depends on the tour), and plenty of pedal steel to sooth even the most country of folks. Oh, and Laur Joamets melts you to the core with scorching guitar riffs that would make Eddie Van Halen blush a little (Valerie Bertinelli days EVH). I’ll stop right there on Laur. William D. Anderson already professed his man crush for Laur in the last post.
Before I launch into the instrumentals, I have a statement to make. Dave Cobb deserves a lot of credit as the producer and engineer for this record. Essentially, he made “Metamodern” what it is. Dude can dial a knob in.
The song opens with one of the most solid introductions I’ve heard in a long, long time. It almost seems that they are on the downside of a shepherds tone to begin the tune. Even though I don’t spend time in saloons anymore, when “Living the Dream” opens I feel enough testosterone and bravado flowing that I’d kick the doors open and let folks know I arrived. From that point, we jump into a really mellow groove. You know, the type where you’re biting your bottom lip and your whole torso has a sway-factor of 9.6… Yes, that type. Instrumentally, this song has so much going for it, it isn’t even funny. Throughout the cut you have changes in pace that gear up for an end that will really rattle your cage. The band closes this one out in the most outlaw way possible. They build up with a killer instrumental break, then Sturgill really channels his inner Waylon mixed with a blues tinge to his voice.
Like I said, I am a relative newcomer to Simpson’s catalog, but I remember exactly where I was when “Living the Dream” came on. I was sitting in my office wondering if the rest of “Metamodern” was going to be any good, or if I’d just put “Voices” on repeat for the remainder of the day. Naturally, I’m interested in words and phrases. The phrase “Living the Dream” sounded like a college party boy reference to Wedding Crashers. See here for further reference. I slapped the earbuds in and got punched in the mouth by something I wasn’t expecting. I really thought I was being transported in time to a time when country was country. From the first guitar lick, I knew I had to spend some serious time with this tune. I’m sure my “open door policy” probably garnered many quizzical looks and skeptical thoughts by the many passers by… I was so immersed in the track that folks had to tap my desk in order to get my attention. I’ll be frank, that doesn’t happen often. How could a song have almost every element of music my little ears craved? Well, it did, and I knew the rest of the album was going to be a treat.
When you’re taking a look at the lyrics, things are pretty straightforward. Sturgill Simpson isn’t going to buffalo you with any hidden meaning or symbolism. Like the country greats before him, he offers a “no bullshit” approach to songwriting that one can really appreciate. Unlike his contemporaries, Sturgill isn’t jamming about tractors, beers, and a rose colored picture of life in rural America. You’re getting real life stuff with him. “Living the Dream” is really about having motivation and drive to get things done. It’s not the hum-drum of corporate/business life that most of us tend to wallow in these days. It’s clear from the first chorus, “Ain’t no point gettin’ out of bed, if you ain’t livin’ the dream.” In essence, if you’re not doing what motivates you, then there’s really no point in doing it. Else, you’re simply traveling through life “going through the motions”, as Sturgill tells us. There are a myriad of songs out there that make ya groove, but there are only a select few that change the way you think. “Living the Dream” is a song that changes my perception about many things in my own life. Sure, I have responsibilities as an organization’s leader, a husband, and a father. I also have a responsibility to keep myself reasonably sane and happy, too. So, if I’m not living the dream in my personal life….I’m simply “makin’ a big ole pot of coffee when you ain’t got no cream.”
Sturgill also touches on being yourself. Explicitly, he roars, “I don’t need to change my strings, cause the dirt don’t hurt the way I sing.” In other words, I’m not changing the way I am in order to change another person’s viewpoint. Listen, we get one life. One. And it’s finite. So, in this giant fishbowl of a world, where our every move is judged…be yourself. Don’t compromise the way you are (or your value set) for anyone. I think about that line in the song a great deal these days. Events in my life cause me to reflect on it and be grateful for who I am, the people in my life, and for those who are not in my life anymore.
In all, “Living the Dream” contains enough kick-ass to keep you in a tailspin for weeks to come. It has everything you’d want in a classic country song, solid lyrics, edgy instrumentals, and enough power to get a stadium moving. Not bad for a boy from Kentucky.