We get a lot of mail at GLONO. A lot of it is junk from labels and bands. That goes for email too. But now and again we get an email from a reader that is just too good to keep to ourselves.
In response to That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore in which we research the origins of yelling “Freebird” at rock shows, Emily Bohannon, a southern girl of good upbringing and class, sent this gem of an email. To her and her father, the song is more than just a lame gag uttered from the lips of a drunken dope. —DP
I am Emily Bohannon, a Southerner newly transplanted to Michigan. I sent your article on “Free Bird” to my father, who was actually AT the concert at the Fox recorded on One More From the Road. I have pasted his response below my own thoughts. I figured you might like to see what someone who heard the cry long before it turned into a cliché thinks about it.
Because of “Free Bird” I almost never existed in the first place. When my parents were in the courtin’ stage of things, my dad used to propose to Mama in wild fits of passion, to which she would reply, “I’ll believe you when you tell your mother.” His reaction to this statement was to listen to “Free Bird,” down some whiskey, and say, “This song is my life. You’d better not get too attached to me — I could be gone tomorrow.” My mother, in her wisdom, said nothing, realizing that other Southern rock anthems (i.e. “Melissa” by the Allman Brothers) would keep him home.
My parents played Skynyrd (as most Southerners call them) when I was too young to know what any of the songs meant, and I’d watch them dancing barefoot on the hardwood floors with the night air floating in the open door. My dad would throw his hands in the air and mama’s ass would jiggle, and they’d laugh and remember what it was like before me, before moving to the middle of nowhere, before Reagan.
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.
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). It’s a song that you can lose yourself in, that you can let wash all over you. You can stomp your feet and scream and no one will hear you. If anyone hears you, they won’t care. It reminds you that even through all the day-to-day shit you deal with, that there’s a person inside who still isn’t dead yet.
For me that person is still a little girl, laughing and stomping her feet, watching her parents dance.
The call of “Free Bird” from the drunk assholes at the bar is a way (albeit a completely ignorant, misguided, and fuckin’ annoying way) to reconnect with the person inside. If you read my father’s remarks, you will see that the cry has indeed morphed into a bastardized version of what it once was.
My dad’s email:
The article was interesting, especially from the point of view that people your age have only secondary material to work with when interpreting what for many of us is the immediate past.
The “Free Bird” request thing is something that Van Zant did all the time. Typically, he called for “What do ya wanta hear??” when both he and the crowd were drunk enough to enjoy the elemental pull of the guitar lines.
That the whole song was a rebellious statement against uppity yuppy crap and for personal freedom was not lost on the fans. The whole country was into southern rock in the seventies, so it was not a regional thing, and it did not start at the Fox.
Still fighting taxes and trash, pretty much in that order.
Be sure to read the original article, and let us know what “Freebird” means to you!