You’ve probably heard the song. You most likely know at least some of the words, have cranked it on the radio, and dare I guess, you’ve fervently air guitar’d along with it at some point. But for those of you in far-flung places like Australia, Belgium, or Ohio, you may not fully appreciate the true meaning – the profound cultural weight – of Freebird.
Before we dive in to this very important topic, a brief geographical/cultural explanation of the Southern U.S. for our wonderfully diverse audience…
Like yours truly, Lynyrd Skynyrd (the creators of Freebird, and most other awesome rock ballads) originated in the great state of Florida. While I come from the southern quadrant of Florida, which is decidedly ‘Northern’ in culture, the boys from ‘Skynyrd hailed from the northern part of the state; which is undoubtedly ‘Southern.’ For the sake of time, in this case let’s just use ‘Southern’ to represent manners, rockin’ but stayin’ humble, a slow pace of life, and respecting mama, and ‘Northern’ to mean honking at everything and being rude to waitresses.
Humble Beginnings, Melting Faces, Uniting Generations, Changing the World
Mega-hits like Sweet Home Alabama and Simple Man catapulted ‘Skynyrd from humble roots in Jacksonville, Fla., to the peaks of international stardom. Their unapologetic Southern lyrics, style and ethos coupled with a hard rock sound exposed the world to a hip, new rebranding of the South. Their music gave insight into, and brought a newfound appreciation for, a way of life that remained a bit misunderstood and even mocked by outsiders. In doing so, the band generated a new kind of Southern pride. They even helped spawn an entire music genre. Even though several original ‘Skynyrd members died in a tragic plane crash in 1977, their brand of hard “Southern Rock” remains influential and immensely popular to this day.
But perhaps their most enduring opus, their most important contribution to the Arts and certainly the world itself, has got to be Freebird.
As with all good art, Freebird manages to melt your heart and melt your face. It also makes you think. This song has it all: love, drama, tenderness, bravado, thumping beats, melodic hooks, lots of small/easy to understand words, similes, embracing the American spirit of freedom, coming to terms with the futility of effecting lasting, positive change in your life. Oh yeah and a really long shreddin’ guitar solo.
Freebird is 10 minutes of rock at its finest zenith. But aside from its aesthetic prowess, the song is an enduring anthem for Southern folks everywhere. It still resonates today like it did when it dropped back in ‘73. We Southerners (I went to school in Alabama so I count. Not like I can count, of course I can count shut up you know what I mean) observe honorable themes like freedom, independence, exuberance and resisting stuff being foisted upon us when we listen to Freebird. The song encompasses so much about us Southerners: We are fiercely independent, we are thoughtful, but we also like to party. This song affords us the opportunity to celebrate all these things in equal measure.
Ultimately, Freebird is an anthem that connects and unites people like few other songs in the history of music. It reminds us of all the good things the South stands for* and that we’re part of something bigger than ourselves. I suspect kids 50 or 100 years from now will still rock out to Freebird, albeit with some sort of newfangled device that gets implanted in your brain or whatever. The point remains that Freebird is a timeless classic that will resonate throughout the generations so long as human beings have ears, hearts and fists to pump.
So the next time someone at the show yells out, “Play Freebird!” You’ll know you’re in good company.**Consider taking the occasion to let loose with some scorching air guitar. This is a great way to make new friends, and I can’t think of a better way to commune with humanity’s rockin’ past, present and future.
*GOOD things like freedom, respecting mama, manners, etc. Not the bad things.
**Bad Company, those guys wish they wrote Freebird. Although “Rock n Roll Fantasy” is pretty great.