Back in the day I did my fare share of partying. I graduated high school in the early 80s and we, as a generation, were notorious partiers. I’m not saying that’s a good thing (thinking Brett Kavanaugh here) that’s just the way it was.
At that time, there were two classes of partiers. There were kids like us–the stoners– who partied all the time–before school, after school, during lunch–and the kids who partied on special occasions.
We had no respect for the occasional partiers. They felt the same about us.
There were all kinds of occasional partiers: Preppies. Jocks. Christians.
There was just one kind of habitual partiers: Us. The heads.
I know what your thinking: Just like The Breakfast Club. No. Not really. More like Dazed and Confused and That 70s Show, but with an 80s, New Wave, Heavy Metal vibe. This was the era that you would hear The Human League and Ozzy Osborne on the same radio station.
My friends had 8-track tape players in their cars. They aspired to get cassette players with custom stereos, but they didn’t. Their parents weren’t about to pay for such nonsense and they–my friends– didn’t have jobs. Neither did I.
As for me, I only had an AM radio in my car. Other than that, I had a nice ride–a ’77 Cutlass. It was in immaculate shape when I got it. A muted yellow with a white interior and a white vinyl top. But because of the stereo situation we never cruised in my Cutlass. My Cutlass didn’t provide sufficient jams. No FM rock radio.
Plus, even though my car was a nice car, it wasn’t a hot car. It was too respectable. Too middle aged.
Anyway, we had our “albums” that we partied to. Tom Petty’s Damn the Torpedoes was a big one. Stevie Nicks’ Bella Donna (oh my gosh, the intro to Edge of Seventeen, we went crazy to that.)
There was The Rolling Stones’ Tattoo You. (I think it belongs in their canon of iconic albums, I don’t care what anyone else says.) Ozzy Osborne’s Diary of a Madman and Blizzard of Ozz (Randy Rhodes was a phenomenal guitarist. It’s not his fault that a lot of his acolytes were soulless speed freaks.)
There was Van Halen’s Van Halen and Van Halen II. Pat Benatar’s whole catalog, but especially Crimes of Passion. And everything and anything by The Cars.
And then, there was Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Gold and Platinum double album.
True, Lynyrd Skynyrd didn’t really fit our vibe. There were no flourishes of heavy metal or brush strokes of new wave. Skynyrd didn’t dabble in pumped up studio antics that were the rage in those days; in fact, the band had disbanded after the tragic plane crashed that killed three of their members, including their alpha dog lead singer, Ronnie Van Zant in 1977.
That was before our time. There had been a cultural shift in the time between the plane crash and our coming of age.
Lynyrd Skynyrd, was THEN and we were NOW. The members had really long, unkempt hair; we desired men with short, edgy haircuts like Sting, of The Police, had.
(There were exceptions to this rule. For example, we thought David Lee Roth was very sexy. I’m sufficiently ashamed of that–have been for a long time.)
But back to Lynyrd Skynyrd, they wore bell bottom jeans. Bell bottoms were anathema to us. Nothing, and I mean nothing, was worse.
Plus Skynyrd, as we affectionately called them, had a sexist vibe. The women of the band–back up singers–were regulated to the sideline of the stage, where they were barley seen and only sometimes heard. We really hated that.
But above all of that, they were rednecks. Unquestionably. Unapologetically. That alone was enough to incite our disdain, though we were rednecks too–oilfield rednecks–we just didn’t know it.
Nonetheless, in spite of it all, we loved them. We loved them because Skynyrd had soul. They embraced the nitty gritty, dirty South–the muscular R&B roots of rock.
Consequently there’s a lot of Otis Redding influence in Lynyrd Skynyrd. Redding was a very physical singer. He didn’t have to be that way; his vocal ability was off the charts, he could have been smooth as silk but he liked to rough it up.
Skynyrd was like that too. They worked hard on stage and in the studio. There was blood sweat and tears in their musicianship and they were masterful musicians.
There was tenderness too.
Believe it or not, that tenderness came, primarily, from lead singer Ronnie Van Zant. He wrote some gorgeous songs. Tuesday’s Gone is one of them.
Train roll on, on down the line,
Won’t you please take me far away?
Now I feel the wind blow outside my door,
Means I’m leaving my woman behind
Tuesday’s gone with the wind
My baby’s gone with the wind
Ronnie Van Zant sings, but he is not a great singer in terms of range, or tone. He is a baritone, not exactly the sexiest voice for a lead singer of rock.
There have been–there still are–many great baritone singers, but Van Zant doesn’t work his voice like Otis Redding did, nor does he take you on a sensual journey like Teddy Pendergrass would. Of course they were R&B singers and Van Zant doesn’t have an instrument like either of them.
Van Zant sings simply, with the twang of his southern ancestry. He sings sincerely. Here, with Tuesday’s Gone, he is singing of sorrow and of pain. There is a hole in his heart where is woman was and now the wind blows through that hole and it hurts.
You feel his pain. You hear his pain.
Yes, Van Zant is lyrically sexist, especially by today’s standards. It’s not okay to say “my woman” these days and I’m glad. But I’m OK with it here. I’m okay with it because he reveals his vulnerability by baring his soul.
Train roll on many miles from my home
See, I’m riding my blues away
Tuesday, you see, she had to be free
But somehow I’ve got to carry on
Then there’s the instrumentation of Tuesday’s Gone. It is perfect. It is serine. It is spatial, spiritual and comforting. There is a touch of Ben E. King’s Stand By Me in the arrangement. There is even orchestration in the guise of the Mellotron.
The Allman Brothers, another preeminent band of Southern Rock that leaned more on jazz than hard rock, had an album entitled Enlightened Rouges. I always loved that title, but I thought it was more befitting of Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Let’s face it, Skynyrd looked like a bunch of Hell’s Angeles. And Leon Wilkeson–the bassist–looked really stupid in that cop helmet. In fact, the whole band looked pretty dangerous and, at the same time, even a little silly.
But they were none of those things.
They were enlightened rouges. Especially Ronnie Van Zant. And with the exception of Gary Rossington they’re all gone. Just like Tuesday.