Concluding the series recalling the top ten life and literary influencing albums in my collection (in no particular order), I hope you’ve enjoyed this journey with me. More than that, I hope maybe you’ve looked up some of the albums and artists I’ve included in my list, streamed some of the tunes … and maybe you’ve been inspired to think of your own top ten.
All good things come to an end. My list of ten ends here, with—
Post Ten of Ten
Lynyrd Skynyrd: Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd
G D Em F C Dsus D Dsus D Dsus D
Chances are, if you play guitar that’s enough to tell you what this post is all about.
It was 1979 for me, two years after the fateful crash in Mississippi that took Ronnie van Zant, Steve and Cassie Gaines of the band Lynyrd Skynyrd from the world. I was twelve. My next-door neighbor was thirteen. And we were going to start a band.
Now, I’d never played any instrument, really. I did try trombone in beginning band in 5thgrade. I had long arms, and that’s all it takes to excite an elementary school music teacher into believing he’d found the next great … who is a world-famous trombonist? I don’t even know.
But me and my friend were going to start a rock band. And this kid’s parents had money, so he possessed a really nice drum set and a really nice electric guitar and amp. He couldn’t play either of them. But that didn’t matter. Together, we could make one hell of a racket.
He put on Skynyrd’s first album and played track eight, the very last song on the album, Freebird. He asked, “Guitar or drums?” Guitar came with a chord chart—the aforementioned progression. In no time, I was strumming away while my friend attempted to lay down a beat. We were headed for the big time. Not really. My guitar ability came to an abrupt end after that Dsus chord. Those solos? Forget it. His drumming was more headache than heartbeat. We parked that thing in the garage.
But at twelve, there’s a lot going on in a young man’s head. Dreams. Fantasies. Fears. Awakening to some of life’s harsher realities. And this song, this album, and this band became a pretty big part of ushering adolescence and beyond into my young life.
I asked my dad to take me to the record store to buy the album. I listened to it over and over. I just about wore that album out.
I felt the irony of a man writing and singing about going away because he was ‘free as a bird’ … and then departing via an airplane crash. I wondered about life and death—you know, as a kid, one of the first times that concept really crosses your mind. I pondered what it would be like for those members of the band that survived to have lived while their friends died. And I was struck by the music—southern rock, they called it. Different than the other music I’d heard. It was down-to-earth. That’s the only way I could describe it then. Still fits when I hear those tunes today.
I spent the most time listening to Freebird—it’s like ten minutes long, for crying out loud. But I also toured the rest of the album, and enjoyed almost every song. Simple Man grabbed me. I loved the down-home feel, a boy and his mama. See—there’s the southern charm. Who up north called their mother Mama? The song’s story spoke of what matters most in this world. Practical advice. And in real-time, advice worth following.
Gimme Three Steps, too. Life advice! Be careful who you look at, young man! You never know if she may be the object of someone else’s affection … and the next thing you know, “you could hear me screaming a mile-a-way as I was headed out towards to door!” Tuesday’s Gone spoke of love’s breakdown. I was just at the age where that stuff started to compute for me, the hurt when you liked someone and they didn’t return your affection, or worse, when I met the kid whose parents were divorced. That was so strange to me … Parents divorce? Oh my!
This album became a thought-provoker for me in that most formative season of my life. It was the story that captured me—the story in each song … and the story of this band that met its end in a horrifying way, leaving their fans to wonder what might have been. Left me wondering how often all of us, every human being, encounters a ‘what might have been?’ longing.
And how life itself is fuel for a writer’s writing. Ronnie van Zant said it best, as only a good old southern boy can: “If prisons, freight trains, swamps, and gators don’t get ya to write songs, man, y’ain’t got no business writin’ songs.”