A fortnight into the coronavirus-compelled self-quarantine at his home 30 minutes south of Nashville, Jason Isbell did something he hadn’t done in more than eight years.
That morning, he’d been arguing with his wife, and dealing with their 4-year-old daughter’s tantrum over not wanting to wash her hands anymore.
Isbell was walking through his bathroom, the day’s petty frustrations spinning around his head, when he decided to rinse his mouth out.
Jason is a recovering alcoholic but hadn’t sworn off Listerine, despite its nearly 27 percent alcohol content.
This time though, instead of swishing the mouthwash around and spitting it into the sink, he swallowed it like a shot of Jack Daniel’s.
“It wasn’t a conscious choice,” Isbell said a few days later, during a FaceTime call from his home.
“I just drank it without realizing what I was doing.”
Amanda Shires, singer-songwriter and wife explained via a separate FaceTime call, “I was concerned but not enough to be like, ‘Call somebody,’”
“If today’s going to be the day, let’s find you a real nice bottle because I’m not going to let you just have Listerine.”, She said.
As it happened, there was no nice bottle procured, and no jitters for another swallow. “But for 20 minutes, I was a little drunk,” said Isbell. “It’s been a long time since I felt like that. I thought, ‘Might as well enjoy it. Probably the last buzz I’ll ever have.’”
Sobriety is an integral part of the 41-year-old Isbell’s career narrative. Back when he was drinking, he recorded three albums with the southern rock progressives the Drive-By Truckers, and three solo albums of alternately tender and raucous country-inflected rock.
The first album he made after getting sober, “Southeastern” from 2013 — a raw chronicle of his boozy rock-bottom and fragile redemption — was his critical and commercial breakthrough. But the long shadow of his addictions has continued to haunt his music since.
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