In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week, in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, we’re talking about some of our favorite songs about drinking.
The best drinking songs aren’t celebrations of alcohol, nor are they castigations of the same. No, the best drinking songs encapsulate a feeling that wouldn’t be expressed were the singer not in his or her (or their, or your, or my) cups. It’s the way that the drinks loosen the tongue, allowing the words to convey meaning and emotion that would otherwise be kept bottled up inside. It’s that testament to what may or may not be better left unsaid that animates Dillinger Four’s “Doublewhiskeycokenoice,” a paean to the fine art of drinking your troubles away, only to keep having those troubles smack you in the drunken face.
Dillinger Four has always explored the fine line between the restorative and destructive powers of booze, and on this track (off of 1998’s Midwestern Songs Of The Americas), the group calls out the way that liquor provides a welcome respite from the crushing unpleasantness of everyday life. Except, of course, the drinker always knows that it’s not really a temporary fix—it’s barely even a fleeting bulwark against the darkness. As the narrator gets further into their alcohol-fueled reflections, they also ruminate on the way drunken ramblings are often as wrong as they are right. (“Praise God and pass the bottle of Beam / Because tonight I can’t seem to say what I mean / Don’t know if I would even if I could, Amen.”) The song acknowledges that booze is there to help trick you into thinking you can forget your problems, and maybe call some friends to help you do it.
The first of many times I saw Dillinger Four was a particularly boisterous set at First Avenue in Minneapolis. The group was clearly well into the liquor by the time they took the stage, and amid the eventual nudity, onstage wrestling with members of openers Lifter Puller and Murder City Devils, and a poorly thrown bottle of Heineken (don’t ask), I discovered a newfound appreciation for the midwestern punk rock I had spent much of high school avoiding. Here was music I could drink to. It was a glorious, ramshackle rage against the dying of the light, but with better jokes than usual. And in the coming years, after I had become loose acquaintances with several members of D4 (various bands of various members playing shows together, the usual commingling of any local music scene), I developed an even greater respect for their songwriting. Few punk groups generate as many ideas, musically and lyrically, as Dillinger Four. Like a caffeine-fueled brainstorming session, their albums and shows were stuffed full to bursting, a wonderfully ADHD sing-along that loses none of its immediacy the 20th time, or even the 200th time.
And whiskey was often a large part of those live shows. More times than I can remember (the whiskey probably had something to do with that), a bottle of something strong was passed around during their sets, like communion wine for our musical Mass. “Doublewhiskeycokenoice” always represented something special about the band for me, and I’m not alone—Craig Finn gives it a shout-out on the opening track of The Hold Steady’s Stay Positive. A quick search online reveals that most people know it as the song Green Day ripped off (a fact that didn’t go unnoticed in our recent inventory of sound-alike songs), but for me, it will always be the song that testifies to what can make punk rock so revelatory. To paraphrase the final lyrics, Dillinger Four had a basement full of booze, blues to lose, and at least for the duration of this song, it’ll be all right.