Recap: I was challenged by one of my friends in EMU Choir to participate in one of those “14 Songs in 14 Days” kind of things, where you list or discuss 14 pieces of music that have had a profound impact on your life! Seeing as to how I have an abundance of time on my hands that I’m using only semi-usefully to this point in the quarantine/ isolation, I figured why not step up my game a bit and use this challenge as the theme of a blog post series. For the entire series, click here.
After a brief hiatus last night from being just a little too busy trying to stay on top of being both an active professor teaching three (now) online classes to wrap up the semester AND be a music student with three-ish active classes on top of all that, I think we’ve got time to squeeze in one more fun song from the high school days before we move on to my college tastes.
As the title of this post gives away, that particular song would have to be Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird.” I just learned tonight that the song title is actually TWO words… I’ve thought it was Freebird my entire life. Oops.
Start playing now... this is the super-long live version from the 1976 album One More for the Road. It has to rank as one of the best and most influential pieces of recorded rock'n'roll ever.
But…so why Free Bird, you might be asking yourself? My relationship to this song is about as complex as it gets.
The first time that I heard Free Bird, as far as I can remember, was actually not a recording of Skynyrd performing it, but it was in a field show by one of the larger marching bands in West Tennessee… I can’t remember which year (might have been my middle school days in the marching band) or which band (Cordova? Mumford? One that was WAY bigger than Westview and WAY out of our league.) So of course, the marching band version wasn’t the recorded version that ranges from 4:41 (single version) to 10-14 minutes (live, length depending on how crazy the guitar solos get, plus the sweet piano interlude sometimes included like the YouTube video above).
Eventually, though again, I can’t recall when, I finally heard the Skynyrd version…this was back in the day of dial-up Internet, Napster and Limewire (which I never used), and Kazaa (which…okay I did use…) so it wasn’t exactly easy to listen to specific songs right when you wanted them to (just keep that in mind, you youngsters!) unless you went out to Walmart and bought the album—and even then it wasn’t guaranteed they’d have a copy.
I heard the normal radio version and was blown away. Eventually the guys in the garage band (Whitehall) all listened to the 1976 live version that one of them owned (probably Paul, the lead guitarist) and we decided we needed to make it one of our early cover songs, along with Ozzy Osbourne’s “Mr. Crowley.” These, in addition to the 6 or 7 songs we wrote ourselves, were our most successful, consistently practiced and actually played in public! I think we played Free Bird only once, the one year we somehow convinced teachers at Westview that we should be able to have live music for the annual field day…
So Free Bird is in my life as a song from the garage bands, but that’s just where it gets started.
For some odd reason (perhaps partly encouraged by the members of Whitehall, now that I think about it…) we got DJs to play Free Bird several times at dances like Band Banquet and Prom. It’s kind of a good fit for high school dance, honestly, because the music starts out as a slow ballad that’s easy to slow-dance to, but then it gets boisterous (for lack of a better term? Faster tempo—that’s what I’m getting at…) that’s better for…other styles of dancing? (I’m clearly not a dancer.) Not moshing…but whatever it is one who is largely uncoordinated does when dancing to faster-paced rock music. Anyway, it was a hit, it was romantic, and for some reason I seem to recall dancing to it (at least the slow part) multiple times when dating Sarah Roberts. (Cue the “awws”…lol!)
But the relationship with the song goes on even further, particularly after I went to grad school and came out on the other side a critical geographer and scholar. (Not to mention—during this time, I worked in a restaurant for a couple of years where the kitchen listened to Knoxville’s classic rock station 97% of the time, so we heard “Sweet Home Alabama,” “Free Bird,” “That Smell,” “Simple Man,” and “What’s Your Name” SO many times it started to drive me crazy…) More importantly, during this time (2012) I became more aware of Skynyrd’s use of Confederate iconography, in part because it was even a topic of a Cultural Geography seminar in a week on music. Without turning this into a critical geography post (because I’m writing this late at night, go figure!) suffice to say that like many things “Southern” including a lot of artists in the Southern rock genre—the realities are more complex than just simply throwing things out entirely. In this case that means being able to appreciate “good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll” like Free Bird while still being cognizant of a band’s political and cultural choices (and not always agreeing with them).
See you tomorrow…the next post will probably be something completely different!