29 November 2007

8+

"Free Bird" by Lynyrd Skynyrd which clocks in at 9:07

"'Free Bird,' the mantra of the moron." - Bill Hicks

To write about a song such as "Free Bird" now, some 34 years after it was first released, at least 30 years after it became a mockery of itself, is a daunting prospect. There's nothing new, or interesting, left to say about the song. It's a redneck guitar rock masterpiece (on the level of "Stairway to Heaven" in the classic rock canon) that has devolved beyond recognition to the point where one can't speak of, or listen to, the song without conjuring some kind of association with public idiocy. I'm positive of that fact; it was blatantly obvious back when I first heard the song in 1988.


That's right, 1988. Somehow I'd escaped having "Free Bird" beaten into my brain for the first thirteen years of my life. In a musical sense at least. I guess half of the reason for this is because I was listening to pop radio up until I became a teenager. Classic rock radio (106.1 RDU at the time in Raleigh) didn't take hold of my life until sometime that year. However, I'd already come across the song at a very early age, without really even knowing it. My uncle Reggie used to yell those two syllables at any/every moment he felt slightly appropriate, or potentially "funny". I didn't even know what the heck it meant, except that it must be a song because his favorite time to yell "freebird!" was whenever he'd see my father at family gatherings.

"Freebird!!! Tim, you know how to play 'Free Bird' on guitar? Play us a little bit of the 'bird, eh? FREEBIRD! WOO!"

My dad plays guitar. Played in a garage band in the '60s and still plays recreationally today; however, "Free Bird" is not/was not/will never be "his jam". I knew this way back then, even though I'd not yet heard the actual song being requested. I assume that my uncle was aware of this too, but then again who knows. Because, see, I'm positive that he found it humorous each and every time he blurted it out - "frrrrreeebird! FREEBIRD" - like that time at Thanksgiving when my other uncle was carving the turkey. Actually, come to think of it, that one was pretty clever and ironic. Funny? Was uncle Reggie a latent comic genius, or was that simply an accidental intersection of one ridiculous habit with strangely perfect timing?

I'm pretty certain that our current President is the kind of guy who has yelled out "Free Bird!" at a variety of events, not including the carving of turkey at a family Thanksgiving. That could be considered accidentally funny, and he's not that lucky. However, I'm imagining him yelling it proudly at concerts, baseball games, his father's Presidential Inauguration, his daughters' baptisms... I bet he's even done it during his time in office. I could totally see it: speaking to some troops about their situation in Iraq, he gets flustered and starts mumbling a bit - needs a joke to save himself and - out pops "FREEBIRD!" along with his trademark snickering grin that says "damn I'm good". I think that's exactly what every single person who has ever uttered the words "free bird" in public thinks: "damn I'm good". What does it say about the United States that our President is one of those "Free Bird" guys? What does it say about me that I was once caught writing the lyrics to this song in a notebook in 9th grade Biology class? I'm a "Free Bird" guy?!

No. I'm not. Yet there I sat one day in 9th grade Biology class - before class - listening to "Free Bird" on my walkman and, for God knows what reason, jotting down the lyrics to the song as they were being sung. It's something I did, from time to time, usually with lyrics I found to be profound or amazing or interesting. I mean, I wrote poetry at the time (I know, we all did) so these things interested me. For example, the lyrics to the Rush song "The Trees" kind of blew my mind around that same time. I wrote those down too, but never got caught.

Here's what I mean by "got caught": as I sat there writing down the lyrical poetry of Lynyrd Skynyrd my girlfriend at the time watched me intently. I didn't think about it (because I was deep in the world of Van Zant), but we were in the same class and she sat directly in front of me. She knew I was a burgeoning poet and assumed I was working on a new poem. Before the first bell rang (to signify the start of class), I got up to sharpen a pencil (or talk to the teacher, or throw something out, or something) and she took that moment to read what I'd been writing. I didn't know it until I got back to my desk, class had already started.

I got a note passed to me: "did you write that? is that your poem?"

Hoping that she was impressed with the lyrics I'd written down, but not fully considering the obvious meaning tied to them, I lied and passed the note back: "yes, do you like it?"

She responded: "no, it's sad. is that how you feel?"

(just remember now, the words to the song - "if I stayed here with you girl...things just couldn't be the same" and "bye, bye, its been a sweet love" and "I'm as free as a bird now, and this bird you'll never change")

It hit me then that I'd messed up. But I still wanted her to think I was poetically amazing enough to have come up with those lyrics so I tried to play it off: "nooo, I was just writing things down. it's not about me or you or anything, I swear!"

After class we had a long talk during which I never once let it slide that those weren't actually words born out of my own mind, yet somehow I managed to get her to think that my "poem" wasn't an attempt to break up with her. For the time being I'd smoothed things over. But that didn't last for very long and she broke up with me a few short weeks later. Perhaps she finally heard "Free Bird" on RDU and was crushed by my lies? I doubt it. I tend to think she just wanted to get herself far far away from a moron who wrote such bloody awful poetry.

*above image of this year's pardoned turkey from HERE

Buy Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd on Amazon/on iTunes.

EAR FARM's 8+ is a weekly feature that showcases songs longer than 8 minutes. In the recent past these songs were featured on EF's 8+:
Ludwig van Beethoven - "Symphony No. 6 in F major, Op. 68 - Allegretto"
Gioachino Rossini - "La gazza ladra (The Thieving Magpie)"
The Fiery Furnaces - “Inspector Blancheflower”
Morrissey - "Moon River"
Miles Davis - "So What”
Tori Amos - "Yes, Anastasia"
Boduf Songs - “Bell for Harness”
8 Bold Souls - "Odyssey"

To see a full list of every song featured in EAR FARM's 8+ click HERE.

12 comments:

k said...

you were just like that asshole kid in the squid and the whale!

Anonymous said...

ah HAHAHAHAHA!

this is priceless this story

Mike Shadow said...

I never really like Freebird for similar reasons to this sad moments you talked about.

I love Lynyrd, (can't spell it though)after one night when I was about 14, where I got kicked out of Dad's home and was wandering to Mum's (convenience of broken homes) and met two ladies who lived in a caravan park. (Think you'd call them trailers) And these kind, caring ladies, on their way home from a bar, took me back to their caravan and gave me vodka and played Lynyrd and Ricki Lee Jones and made me feel less sad.

But not Freebird, it was always such a cliche.

But lately, lately I been liking Freebird, mainly I think coz of a lyric in a Drive-by Truckers song.


If they say it's cool, it is.

Taylor T-Sides said...

ok... but "Free Bird" is my jam on guitar hero.

p.s.

LuLu said...

I got a kick out of your post. "Free Bird" eluded me until I married my late husband Michael in 2000. He had a massive record collection. Even though I came late to my appreciation of the song and the band, I still love it. It's not a cliche to me. In fact, the record was played at Michael's funeral. How hokey (I know). The eagle was Michael's emblem, and he is indeed free now.

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