Saturday, July 04, 2009

There's Too Many Places I've Got to See

I don't know if today's holiday is why the Tribune decided it was time to run this story.,0,2598735.story

As the article notes, Skynyrd's most revered and reviled song is a declaration of independence of sorts--though it definitely feels even longer than our nation's more sacrosanct Declaration.The time when you'd go see a band, whether a sweaty night watching a just-under-the-cusp band in some shithole club where "Freebird!" filled the air like some kind of ironic rallying cry (and it worked; I mean, try shouting "Don't Fear the Reaper!!" between songs at a show), or just cynically muttered to your friends while watching that band you used to see in that shithole but now for whom you paid 75 bucks in tickets and warm Miller Lite, is gone, and that's because, if you ask me, irony died sometime between 2000 and 2006. But that is matter for another "Note."

It was shouted because, um, yeah, no one was ever actually going to *play* "Freebird." I never saw it happen. Maybe a few chords, first line, whatever. We're talking about a nine-minute, nine-second song, the anthem of what was the anathema to all the folks chuckling at and musicians shaking their heads at the the insistent interruption of Skynyrd's signature title: a long-ass, old-ass, over-indulgent rawk opus from the Seventies.

I never experienced the not-ironic power of "Freebird" until it came on the radio while I was driving up a mountain, in the rain, on I-40 in the Pisgah National Forest in western North Carolina about eight years ago. God, it was gorgeous, the roiling clouds that were literally overhead, the patient old trees marching up the mountainsides, my frantic inability to figure out how to work the defrost in the rental car to de-fog the windows. And something about that damn song and that drive somehow...melded. The languid guitar whorls sweeping through the song's (too-long) intro eased the car through the crazy-ass long curves up the grade, and that (way too long) 4-4 chunka-chunka trenchant guitar ending with the over-indulgent solos wailing on top, played by what seems like between six or seventy-five guitars (when it was really just Gary and Allen on Gibsons--thanks Wikipedia!), dammit, that four-minute hillbilly breakdown freaking propelled my economy rental auto up that hill.

Maybe it was that it was the first time I'd done this drive myself, one that was undertaken countless times before, going to and from Kentucky to beach vacations with me in the backseat clinging to the door handle and gaping at the Smokies, wondering how my dad was going to manage to keep us on this road with all these--holy shit!--semis belchingly downshifting and upshifting *right* next to our car. And here I was, freaking mobilized by Skynyrd, wondering how I was going to keep this rented Kia on I-40-NC in the steaming August rain.

Or maybe it was that this song just somehow sounds like the South to me, and I mean the South of my admittedly cheesy, golden-hued memory: of late-afternoon sun-heat, big trees throwing shadows on canyons of grass, walls of humidity, the sound of millions of bug legs scraping against a million more bug legs, of pool chlorine and chicken and porch swings. I was back down there, in the summer, where the summer should be spent.

I guess I gave all that up to look at other views, at man-made mountains with people implacably climbing within and around them and to hear the grate of metal train wheel on metal train track down the amber-lit street. That happened when, in the course of human events, it became necessary to dissolve bands and declare the causes that impel one to to speak.So yeah, anyway: after that drive, those smug, attention-seeking hipster shouts, although waning, as this Trib story reports, seemed less amusing and really...lame and superficial. Taken out of the context-it-was-never-intended-for, there's something really real down in the manginess of "Freebird."

I mean, it is a nine-minute, nine-second song, after all.