Tuesday, January 27, 2009

How 'bout you? (Let's celebrate individuality together with "Free Bird")

Before continuing to read this post, please cue up this video.

For those of you reading this via RSS, the cited video is a live performance of a little ditty by Lynyrd Skynyrd that you know by the name of "Free Bird." A lot has been written about this song, but I prefer to quote from Emily Bohannon:

It wasn't until I was 14, however, that I heard the song for the first time. I mean HEARD it, not just listened to it. I was on a Greyhound bus riding through Louisiana, and watching the swamps fly past. I felt for the first time that I was bigger than my hometown, and that one day I would be on my own.

In high school, my standard method of breaking up was to play "Free Bird" — sweetly I would laugh on the ride home, I would smile and suggest the song, I would step out of the car and say goodbye. The boy would never know why I didn't return his calls.

Ironically, this individual anthem has been adopted by EVERYBODY. In the same way that Steve Martin used to get his audiences to shout, in unison, "I am unique!" - and in the same way that David Byrne, in the song "Electric Guitar," documented government unison control of the instrument (heh) of revolution - it turns out that EVERYBODY is shouting for EVERYONE to play "Free Bird."

Back to Emily:

And in college, I learned that "Free Bird" was also the cry of drunk rednecks on a Saturday night. I've seen bands both play the song and ignore the calls (and I have been IN a band who chose to heed the call).

And several bands have heeded the call. Even if you restrict the call to known bands (rather than bar bands), BMI documents that "Free Bird" has not only been performed by Lynyrd Skynyrd, but also by Gypsy Tribe, Molly Hatchet, and Wynonna. Wikipedia lists additional cover versions, including Dread Zeppelin, Will to Power, Dream Theater, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Phish, the Orb, and countless other musical artists.

All of them asserting their individuality.

For decades I've had a vision, partially influenced by Byrne and Martin, of one million Chinese young men, all standing on the Great Wall, and all playing the opening solo to "Free Bird."

All in perfect unison.

Has "Free Bird" become a cliche? There's been a great debate about it. Mack Rawden:

Sure, it's become astoundingly cliche for a bunch of douche bags to scream "Free Bird" at rock concerts, sporting events, and funerals, but I don't understand how that has any baring on the song itself.

Michael Fraiman:

I think every youth, as a rite of passage, must listen to “Free Bird”, be amazed, then get bored with it because it’s not the type of song you can listen to more than five times a year.

But if you get tired of "Free Bird," you can always listen to another song. In fact, Songfacts has some suggestions:

People who dig this song also like "Stairway To Heaven" "Hotel California" and "Bohemian Rhapsody"

Now I will admit to listening to songs over and over again at times - for example, Midnight Juggernauts' "Tombstone" and Basshunter's "We Are The Waccos." But, strangely enough, I haven't played "Free Bird," "Stairway," "Hotel California," or "Bohemian Rhapsody" over and over on my computer lately.

Probably because I heard them over and over back when I was growing up in the 1970s.
blog comments powered by Disqus