Monday, March 21, 2005


This article is far from profound, interesting, or relevant. But it put a smile on my face by reminding me of one of my fondest college memories. The Monomoy gang and a few hangers-on (of which there were many - our house built a deserved reputation of unparalleled awesomeness during our senior year) piled into A-Palm's Jeep Cherokee and headed to Columbus to catch a Built to Spill show. Seven people in one Jeep Cherokee. At the time, and under the circumstances, I believe there was a lot of contraband herbs being ignited and inhaled, so by the time we arrived at the club, we were relatively moronic and certainly overly impaired. A-Palm couldn't parallel park his own car, so I had to do it for him, which shamed him to a small degree and filled my hazed head with a small degree of pride, and a very large degree of paranoia that the people across the street were not only watching us and laughing at us, but were calling the cops. So, off to the Newport we walked. And, like, quickly.

The show started off well. Lots of indie kids from Ohio State. Drinking a beer, hanging with homies, and being just about as cool as a kid from a hick town going to a little school in the middle of nowhere in the middle of Ohio could possibly be (which we all know, unquestionably, is pretty fucking cool). It must have been after the third or fourth song that we first heard the unmistakable word, cascading down from the balcony, greeted with the same welcome as a humid, smelly fart: "Freebird!" It was clear that the originator of the plea was drunk - already, at this early stage of the show, incredibly drunk - and that no amount of shushing from the audience or turned heads looking upwards into the darkness of the Newport, was going to dissuade the provocateur from expressing his desire to hear some Skynyrd. "Freebird!" he shouted again. Some chuckles, some more shushes. And then the band launched into another one of their songs.

When the song finished we heard the cry of Freebird once again. Same guy. Same booming, deep voice, with a hint of mischief in it, carrying through the crowd. I saw people getting visibly upset, but the bad soldiered on, valiantly, commendably. However, each time the band tuned their instruments between songs, the same lone voice could be heard, shouting Freebird, pleading for it, asking the world, in a way, "why not?". And a funny thing happened. After five or six songs, we began asking the same question. A tidal wave of emotion swept across the crowd; "What if..." it whispered in our ears. What if they played it - what if they rocked our asses with it? And then, another shift of thinking: they fucking should play it. The man on the balcony turned, suddenly, inexplicably, from asshole pariah to loveable mascot and mouthpiece. He wasn't a dickface that kept repeating the same, over-worn, humorless joke over and over again because he was a yaggoff, he just really fucking wanted to hear Freebird. And the more we all thought about it, the more we all knew that we did, too. How many times have you found yourself in a crowd, watching some eighth-rate band play, someone shouts out Freebird, and the band gets pissed off? If you're with me, it happens a lot, because I see a lot of shitty bands and I always shout Freebird. And how many times did you wish to yourself that instead of getting pissed, wouldn't it fucking tits if the band just played Freebird, and rocked your underdeveloped little balls off?

I know I have.

So anyway, the set ends. No Freebird. But maybe...maybe...they'll play it as an encore? House lights come one. We are denied even the simplest of rock pleasures - a good cover of a Bob Dylan song or some rare punk song that nobody really knows, except for one guy in the crowd, probably a plant.

And then it happens. As the crowd is shuffling out the doors, a chord. An unmistakable chord. Cause this bird you cannot cage!

They played it. The lights dimmed again. Lighters were ignited. It had to have been twenty minutes long. It seemed endless, and they played it flawlessly. I'm not sure, to this day, what the deal was - if the guy in the balcony was a plant or, and this is what I hope - the band had taken upon themselves years earlier to not only learn but perfect Freebird and, when the situation was ripe, when a man so adamantly yearned for the aural pleasure of the southern rock anthem, when a crowd so willfully backed this one man's desire, to then play the song, to "bring it", to blow our asses out, to rock our little minds.

That is what they did, and I thank them, and someday I hope they will know how deeply and how strongly they touched me, in the bathing suit area, right here on this doll, no, a little lower, right there, where the dark spot is, yes, in the bottom, they said they'd hurt my parents, they said other people did it all the time, it kind of hurt but it also kind of felt good.


King Koopa said...

From time to time, I still find it funny when someone else yells "Freebird". When I'm laughing it's usually in that detached "it's-funny-because-it-pisses-people-off" sort of way.

Is it possible that these pissed-off hipsters are annoyed by the same type of ironic humor that they themselves regularly employ outside the concert hall? Is "Freebird" ironic humor subconsciously (and usually drunkenly) directed at the hip, cool people at their expense? It's still a stupid and silly thing to shout at a concert you paid to see, but isn't even sillier to be bothered by it?

Great story though...I'd love to see a band actually play that song and see the reaction it gets. Hilarious...

Awbnid said...

What a wonderful vignette. I am a fan of Built to Spill as well, and am not even a little surprised that they were able to tear the roof off with Freebird. The perfect response to idiotic OR ironic humor is sincerity. It's anti-hipster jujitsu, I tell ya'. Of course with drunken rednecks it can also get you punched in the face.

Anonymous said...

They've been playing Freebird for a while. I saw them in Portland at the Crystal Ballroom with Calvin Johnson (last Halo Bender's performance) and they did a 17 minute rendition that blew the doors off the place.