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):
- The original “Freebird" cry: Lynyrd Skynyrd's Ronnie Van Zant and an Atlanta audience
- Mike Doughty of Soul Coughing, from the 2002 album "Smofe + Smang: Live in Minneapolis."
- Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins during a 1993 show in Chicago
- The late comedian Bill Hicks during Chicago show in the early 1990s
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 . . .
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
The Freebird Files
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