Thursday, March 31, 2005

Sweet home alabama.

Richard Roeper, Ebert's sidekick and general interest/three dot columnist for the Sun-Times, yesterday proclaimed Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" the greatest rock song in history. Since I spent much of yesterday in the Heart of Dixie (more about Birmingham and USA versus Guatemala at Legion Field later in this entry) and because I grew up a teen in North Florida in the mid to late 1970s (with a pre-recorded cassette copy of One More For From the Road), I feel I can comment on this contention as something of an expert.

Roeper is right about the fame of the opening guitar lick, perhaps only surpassed by The Stone's "Satisfaction." Not sure why that wasn't on his list and "Ohio" was, unless it's some Neil payback for Ronnie. And he's arguably right about the quality of the song. Although as a long-time Skynyrd fan and snob (who'd pick "A Simple Man" over "Tuesday's Gone" any day even if it is beer commercial fodder these days), I'd argue "Sweet Home Alabama" is only the fifth best song on Second Helping after "Don't Ask Me No Questions," "The Ballad of Curtis Loew" (which Roeper discusses), "Workin' for MCA", and "The Needle and the Spoon" (yet another Neil Young response) despite its inconic status. "Call Me the Breeze" as a J J Cale song is off the table. And neither "Swamp Music" nor "I Need You" has ever really inspired me.

I'm not sure he's right about the claim that "taken as a whole and in the context of the times, 'Sweet Home Alabama' is not in any way a racist song." First, I'd ask the context of which times. Next I'd tut tut about the danger of overgeneralizations like "is not in any way", as I did when teaching composition at Stanford and Mississippi State. In fact, I'm sure he's wrong about that particular claim. If I were in a waspish mood, I'd probably riff on the fact that his conscience should bother him.

Instead, more charitably, I'll argue that Southerners over 40's lived experience with respect to this song is different from folks raised elsewhere. Certainly if you grew up below the Mason-Dixon Line but had issues with certain regional icons like The Stars and Bars, CSA battle caps, or the phrase "The War of Northern Aggression" or even if you just didn't care for the one-to-one correspondence of Southerners with redneck rebels in so many non-Southerners eyes (what C. Vann Woodward denoted as The Burden of Southern History four decades ago), you probably have a much more complicated relationship to this particular song than Roeper is willing to allow. If you're not white, I suspect (but don't know) it's even worse.

In the October 2001 Fifth Annual Music Issue of The Oxford American, Diane Roberts, famed NPR commentator who grew up in my North Florida hometown and attended college there, considered "our love/hate relationship with 'Sweet Home Alabama,'" concluding that
the song—the indefensible but nonetheless infectious, febrile anthem—drags us into a Southern solidarity that we are all thoroughly ashamed of but exhilirated by. And you just can't ( go on, try) can't dance to "Southern Man."
In Dixie Lullaby, Mark Kemp writes unflichingly about the complex racial and class politics of Ronnie Van Zant and Skynyrd, properly pooh poohing Lee Ballinger's promulgation of the dubious "Boo Boo" defense cum apologia. Me, Myself & I think the context of the song is always already about drunk, dumb-ass Bubbas with rebel flags and Zippo lighters held aloft in bars shouting for lame overplayed covers ("What song is it you want to hear?" living forever in infamy), even if it does have a killer opening riff and you can dance to it.

Now to my time in the Yellowhammer State. I did spend much of yesterday in Alabama as I saw the USA blank Guatemala 2 nil in a World Cup 2006 Qualifying match

Headed for Birmingham around 10:30 and made a 1:30 lunch at Surin West, one of the first places I ever ate out at in Birmingham, during Ice Storm 2000 on Alec Eiffel's Bday and before GBV at the Nick.

Everyone was so much younger then.

I skipped the sushi and went straight for a Classic Extra Dry Martini featuring Bombay Sapphire Gin, though someone needs to explain to them that the classic should come with olives not a lemon twist.

Here's a tip; there's a reason the menu doesn't list prices for the Martinis! Well it was worth it for just the one. I veered from my normal Thai order (Pad Thai noodles) and started with their Spicy Coconut Soup with Shrimp, which was a passable version of Tom Kha Gai and also ordered the Chicken Masama with Avocado Slice. Mine looked like this:

Not like this as the on-line gallery of featured items suggested it would:

After some browsing at The Summit (I did pick up some Hot Cinnamon Spice Tea and American spoon Mango Butter at Williams-Sonoma and a magazine at Barnes and Noble), I headed off to Legion Field

Despite USA Soccer's best efforts there was a sea of Blue and White Guatemala supporters, although there was an impressive block of red USA fans in the one endzone with seating, where the second half goals were disallowed and scored and the hand ball penalty improbably missed by a mediocre match umpire.

Here the starters are arriving and posing for pre-match photos:

Then it was time for the kick off:


Anonymous said...

RE: Skynyrd

While anybody shooting off they mouths about what constitutes the greatest, bestest anything is setting themself up for a BIG fall (and rightly so), the word on the Van Zandt boys was that they were BIG whoop-ass rednecks, and this came from a good friend of mine who suffered through high school with them in Jacksonvile, er, ville .

But really, SWA over Freebird? Cracka, puh-leeze!

jenny said...

great site .

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