Sometimes in the midst of all our political insanity and inanity, something so refreshing sneaks into your day that it makes you hopeful for humanity again. (I’m a real live grumpy old fart, so that’s saying something).
I stumbled across a handful of interesting “reaction” videos, which I’ve been informed are all the rage. It’s a 3‑step process:
- Someone does a thing on video.
- Someone else watches the first person doing a thing on video, and also records themselves watching the video. And finally
- Everyone else in the country watches the second person watching the first person.
The video I stumbled across was a rap fan hearing Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” for the first time. People hearing “Free Bird” for the first time is apparently bleeding-edge popular right now, because there were dozens more videos of younger rap fans hearing “Free Bird,” with many of them watching Skynyrd’s landmark live performance at the Oakland Coliseum on July 2, 1977 (not only because it was an amazing performance, but also because it was just a few months before the plane crash that killed Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, and other road crew, in addition to both pilots.)
I included a few of these reaction videos at the end of this post; there are dozens more.
It was a lot of fun to see the performance through these kids’ eyes (one of them wasn’t sure how to pronounce Lynyrd Skynyrd, but then pretty obviously saw a photo of their debut album Lynyrd Skynyrd (Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd) and said “Oh, I guess it’s pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd‘”).
Something felt off-kilter, though. It felt like watching a classic movie with a few chunks chopped off to fit it around all the informercials.
Anyway, one of the rap fans’ reactions I didn’t expect was when the song segued from the final chorus to the legendary guitar outro. Like everyone else in my generation, I tolerate the first half of the song while I’m waiting for the guitars to kick in, so it was fun to watch these newbies sit up and say, “Whoa! What’s this?”
My favorite reaction was from YouTuber PinkMetalHead, who looked puzzled at Gary Rossington’s slide guitar bird chirping, then got sidetracked looking at everyone’s hair (no, really). But I’m not making fun of her; the whole point was that she was watching 45-year-old concert footage and wasn’t afraid to open up to it. When the outro started, she said, “Who’s responsible for all this guitar stuff?” The video cut to Allen Collins stomping around with his Gibson Firebird and she said “Oh, it’s him!” No, PinkMetalHead; it was all of them (Rossington, Collins and Gaines).
In short, all the reaction video folks honestly loved “Free Bird” and said some version of “How have I never heard of this song or even this band?!” But like I said, something was off-kilter, and it took me a while to figure out what it was. It wasn’t what they said, it was what they didn’t say:
The stage backdrop was an enormous Confederate flag.
There it hangs all through the video, having the unmitigated audacity to, you know, exist. It’s a good 20 feet high and 50-some-odd feet wide. And no one cared.
This wasn’t a video that predated cancel culture; it was posted in October 2020. And the concert wasn’t some Jim Crow state holdover; it was in 1977 at the Oakland Coliseum, which was and still is literally across the street from Berkeley University, fer chrissake!
The official video of “Free Bird” from the concert has 40,000+ comments. All the reaction videos have tens of thousands of comments too.
So far I haven’t found a single comment from the woke/cancel culture/SJW crowd demanding YouTube delete the videos. No one’s heads melted or exploded Raiders of the Lost Ark-style. Impromptu lynchings stubbornly refused to happen. No one started throwing Molotov cocktails.
Isn’t that refreshing? We’ve got a musical legacy that’s shared and cherished by millions of people from four generations of Americans, and nobody’s fighting over the band’s origins.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: The things that unite us are far bigger and more powerful than the things that divide us.
In 2013, when I was 51, I got to check an item off my bucket list when I saw Skynyrd at the Colorado State Fair in Pueblo. I lived in Colorado for 20 years but was still surprised at that concert:
There are five enormous military installations comprising tens of thousands of personnel within 40 miles of Pueblo: Peterson Air Force Base, Fort Carson, NORAD, Schriever Air Force Base, and the Air Force Academy. Pueblo itself has thousands of blue-collar diehard union types.
About half of the folks who came to see Lynyrd Skynyrd that night were people of color: I saw black, Latino and Native American folks there. Once again, there was a huge Confederate flag backdrop behind the stage; once again, no one cared.
When Disney dumped Gina Carano, her response was “They can’t cancel us if we don’t let them.”
Remember the Vietnam-era poster saying “Suppose they gave a war and nobody came”?
What if Cancel Culture threw another tantrum and nobody paid attention?
What if BLM tried to start another race riot and nobody came?
The things that unite us are far more important and more powerful than the things that divide us.