Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Free as a bird

Somewhere between Portland, Maine and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on Monday, "Freebird", that altogether too familiar Lynyrd Skynyrd song came on the Sirius Super Shuffle. I love Sirius, by the way. Even the age of the portable music player has not entirely solved the problem of boredom on long drives. Traditional radio is almost useless, since you need to change stations every half hour or so, assuming you can even find something other than a right-wing religious talk show in much of the country. Satellite radio, while not entirely perfect (e.g. some channels suffer from heavy rotation on occasion), is a nice companion on long drives.

But back to Freebird. Perhaps it was the fact that this was about my 16th hour of driving in three days. But I started analyzing the (few) verses to this song. Such activities are usually a mistake. On the surface, there's not much to the story here. It's not like I was trying to make sense of Terrapin Station in an acid-induced haze, wherein the mysteries of the universe are revealed. No, this is just Freebird.

Anyway, I suddenly had this realization that the song has another layer. Perhaps this is supposed to be obvious, perhaps I just never bothered to think too much about the song. But on this day, it spoke to me in the way that only a cheesy, overplayed, excessively dramatic, multiple-false-ending rock-and-roll anthem could.

If I leave here tomorrow
Would you still remember me?
For I must be travelling on, now,
'Cause there's too many places I've got to see.
But, if I stayed here with you, girl,
Things just couldn't be the same.
'Cause I'm as free as a bird now,
And this bird you can not change.
Lord knows, I can't change.

So the story seems simple enough. He's leaving his girl, trying to make excuses (it's not you it's me), blah blah. You've seen this all before. But really, there is much more. Our hero here is speaking from a place deep in his soul, a place where a raging conflict lives on. A conflict that can never be resolved, and is in fact the foundation of his sorry existence.

I'm as free as a bird, and this bird you cannot change

The protagonist proclaims his freedom, as the factor driving his departure. He must be free, and she will never change that. Lord knows I can't change.

Herein lies the unfathomable conflict that, really, prevents the narrator from ever truly being free. Freedom is necessarily at odds with the inability to change. How can one be free if one can never change? In fact, the hapless wanderer is trapped by his conflict, his past, his fear. He almost convinces himself that he is free, but there is a great irony underlying the claim. He speaks initially as one living for the moment, yet he belies his freedom with this painful admission of failure - he cannot change.

Bye, bye, its been a sweet love.
Though this feeling I can't change.
But please don't take it badly,
'Cause Lord knows I'm to blame.
But, if I stayed here with you girl,
Things just couldn't be the same.
Cause I'm as free as a bird now,
And this bird you'll never change.
And this bird you can not change.
Lord knows, I can't change.
Lord help me, I can't change.

Looking at the words in print, it becomes so clear. The final cry for help, the hand reaching from the raging sea as he slowly sinks below the surface. He is destined to live this cyclical life, like Sisyphus rolling the rock up the hill every day. But unlike Sisyphus, he finds no solace in this pattern. He longs for true freedom even as he acknowledges that he has none.


Okay. Maybe that was altogether too much mental energy spent on Freebird... but strange things happen during the heart of a long drive...

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