Friday, March 18, 2005

Rock's Oldest Joke

A very, very funny front page WSJ article:  Rock's Oldest Joke: Yelling 'Freebird!' In a Crowded Theater. The column is charming, and is subtitled "It's a Request, a Rebuke, A Cry From the Heart, A Tribute to Skynyrd."

Here's an overview:

"Somebody is always yelling out the title. "I don't know that I've ever seen a show where it hasn't happened," says Bill Davis of the veteran country-punk band Dash Rip Rock.

"It's just the most astonishing phenomenon," says Mike Doughty, the former front man of the "deep slacker jazz" band Soul Coughing, adding that "these kids, they can't be listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd."

Yelling "Freebird!" has been a rock cliché for years, guaranteed to elicit laughs from drunks and scorn from music fans who have long since tired of the joke. And it has spread beyond music, prompting the Chicago White Sox organist to add the song to her repertoire and inspiring a greeting card in which a drunk holding a lighter hollers "Freebird!" at wedding musicians.

Bands mostly just ignore the taunt. But one common retort is: "I've got your 'free bird' right here." That's accompanied by a middle finger. It's a strategy Dash Rip Rock's former bassist Ned Hickel used. According to fans' accounts of shows, so have Jewel and Hot Tuna's Jack Casady. Jewel declines to comment. Mr. Casady says that's "usually not my response to those kind of things."

Others have offered more than the bird. On a recent live album, Modest Mouse's Isaac Brock declares that "if this were the Make-a-Wish Foundation, and you were going to die in 20 minutes -- just long enough to play 'Freebird' -- we still wouldn't play it." Dash Rip Rock often plays "Stairway to Freebird," a mash-up of the Skynyrd epic and Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" that Mr. Davis boasts lasts "less than two minutes. ... You're finished before people get mad."

A few years ago, Mr. Doughty started promoting the Weather Girls' "It's Raining Men" as the new "Freebird," asking audiences at his solo shows to call for the disco chestnut instead. Now, he says, he gets yells for both songs at every performance."

Fun stuff. Credit the normally reserved WSJ with being hip enough to provide online subscribers several clips of bands interacting with fans yelling "Freebird,"  (including some profanity from Hicks):

Real Player required

As someone who saw Hicks live (Caroline's when it was at the South Street Seaport) I have to say I never laughed harder in my life. Find some boots of Hicks live (or get any of his CDs). He simply is hysterical.

One last idea: How to stop the Freebirders:

"As with many mysteries, the true origin may be unknowable -- cold comfort for bands still to be confronted with the inevitable cry from the darkness. For them, here's a strategy tried by a brave few: Call the audience's bluff. Phish liked to sing it a cappella. The Dandy Warhols play a slowed-down take singer Courtney Taylor-Taylor describes as sung "like T. Rex would if he were on a lot of pills." And Dash Rip Rock has performed the real song in order to surprise fans expecting the parody. For his part, Mr. Doughty suggests that musicians make a pact: Whenever anyone calls for "Freebird," play it in its entirety -- and if someone calls for it again, play it again.

"That would put a stop to 'Freebird,' I think," he says. "It would be a bad couple of years, but it might be worth it."

 

Terrific article -- a lot of fun . . .


>

Source:
Rock's Oldest Joke: Yelling 'Freebird!' In a Crowded Theater
It's a Request, a Rebuke, A Cry From the Heart, A Tribute to Skynyrd
By JASON FRY
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, March 17, 2005; Page A1
http://online.wsj.com/article/0,,SB111102511477881964,00.html

The Freebird Files
http://online.wsj.com/public/article/0,,SB111101388806981616,00.html

Posted at 11:00 AM in Humor, Music | Permalink

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Comments

"Stairway to Freebird" is by Pinkard and Bowden, I do believe. Thay're also known for such classics as "Don't Pet the Dog." If you've not heard them, they're worth a listen.

Posted by: John | Mar 19, 2005 5:56:58 PM

Also, "Freeway to Stairbird" is by Rev. Billy C. Wirtz. It's a song about two thugs in a redneck bar demanding he play each song, so he plays a combo of the both to make them both happy, and then a fight breaks out. It's pretty hilarious.

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0000005QK/qid=1111456324/sr=2-7/ref=pd_bbs_b_2_7/103-3560507-6240600

Posted by: seamus | Mar 21, 2005 8:53:14 PM

Found it -- thanks!


http://bigpicture.typepad.com/writing/2005/03/freeway_to_stai.html

Posted by: e&e | Mar 26, 2005 6:34:18 AM

I was once at a Polyphonic Spree concert, and a guy named Corn Mo was opening. During his opening set (just a guy and his accordian) some drunk (the bastard beat me to it) yelled "Freebird", Corn Mo stops, calls him out on it, looks him straight in the eye and states "You owe me a beer". immediatley jams freebird on an accordian. Quite possibly the best response i've ever seen, as well as the best rendition of Freebird I've ever heard.

Posted by: Will | May 17, 2005 12:55:22 PM

Once yelled this out from the back during a small coffee house concert by a Celtic group when the fiddle player asked for requests (jokingly as she expected no one to request any Celtic tunes) while someone replaced a broken string. As soon as I said it I was embarassed for myself. However, I was saved, when the entire room burst into laughter and the fiddle player, and several of her bandmates, quickly did a 2 minute instrumental Celtic jam version of Freebird while the errant cat-gut was replaced.

Posted by: milo bloomfield | Jun 27, 2005 4:06:33 PM

Once yelled this out from the back during a small coffee house concert by a Celtic group when the fiddle player asked for requests (jokingly as she expected no one to request any Celtic tunes) while someone replaced a broken string. As soon as I said it I was embarassed for myself. However, I was saved, when the entire room burst into laughter and the fiddle player, and several of her bandmates, quickly did a 2 minute instrumental Celtic jam version of Freebird while the errant cat-gut was replaced.

Posted by: milo | Jun 27, 2005 4:09:10 PM

Freebird?.........Stairway to Heaven??
Sorry, the only one in the band that knows those is the drummer/tambourinist /bassist (choose one), and they'll be glad to acommodate your request. Enjoy!

Posted by: Dixson Rudolph | Jul 25, 2005 3:15:15 PM

In 1978 my college friends and I were having pizza at Shakey's and watching an elderly bango player sing songs for the families in attendance. One of us yelled "Freebird" when he asked for requests. We all became embarassed when he very sincerely said he wasn't familiar with that tune but he would try to learn it if we told him where to find the music.

Posted by: Brent Thompson | Aug 19, 2005 5:02:50 PM

I've been told by someone old enough to know that "Black Magic Woman" was the "Freebird" of the times before Skynrd.

Posted by: Ryan Young | Sep 29, 2005 2:14:06 AM

That reminds me of a cool story a guy told on NPR a while back about a guy who did that a guy who would do this at every show he'd go to.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1148406

Posted by: Shayne | Nov 18, 2005 4:10:56 PM

It was the anthem for angsty middle class high schoolers in the early 80s. We were all trying to 'get free' - of parents, of g/fs, of high school, of the demands of culture. Everyone would sing along and "riot" in our whitey middle class way.

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Posted by: Marliyn Smith | Jun 9, 2006 7:40:14 AM

Late to the party, here, but: I've seen The Indigo Girls do both "Free Bird" and "Sweet Home Alabama" in response. I'm pretty sure that They Might Be Giants has also done "Free Bird" in response.

Posted by: Ray Radlein | Jul 17, 2006 4:18:46 PM

Disco still sucks

Posted by: obbop | Oct 16, 2006 5:26:02 PM

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