My New Year’s Resolution: Silence Is Golden

10 Jan

by Roger White

Editor’s note: Leo Kottke replied to this. See the Comment at bottom.

I have one, and only one, resolution that I truly intend to adhere to, as difficult as it may be, for the year 2011. I’ve made serious resolutions with so many New Year’s Days gone by—you know the old standards, losing weight, saving money, drinking less, running more, reading a novel a month, curtailing bodily emissions, actually working at work—all of which have fallen by the wayside within weeks, days, even hours. (Woop, excuse me.)

But this time I mean it.

This solitary promise to myself for 2011, if successfully carried through, could have such significant import and beneficial consequences on not only my way of living and worldview but on those around me that perhaps a groundswell of greater good shall ripple through this land.

I vow, for this year at least, and hopefully on into the days beyond, to refrain from yelling “Free Bird!” at any concert, nightclub show, neighborhood party, school recital, or candidate forum.

Everyone truly hates this guy. Yes, at one time (and one time only) in the distant past, the screaming of “Free Bird!” at public events was original, and even a little funny. I conducted some extensive personal research and discovered the very first use of the “Free Bird!” scream (or FBS, as it’s known in this field). The first official utilization of the FBS in an attempt at humor was executed at the Yo Yo Ma concert with the Orchestra della Scala in Milan, Italy, in the summer of 1980. Near the end of Mr. Ma’s (Mr. Yo’s?) performance, during a particularly quiet interlude, a young man by the name of Arturo Rossingtono loudly and succinctly requested the Skynyrd anthem from the loge section, at which point he was whisked away by Italian authorities and subsequently spent 13 years in federal detention. Italians take their chamber music quite seriously.

In retrospect, it was an ideal application of the FBS. It was a nice, throaty delivery. Sigñor Rossingtono didn’t even laugh at his own joke. The juxtaposition of the musical stylings of Ma and Skyrnyd, the classical ambience and considerable risk factor involved, the exquisite timing (combining the acknowledgment that enough grace time had transpired since the Southern rock band’s tragic 1977 accident with the fact that the anthem was the most requested concert song since “Stairway”), and, of course, the sublime novelty of it all. It was grand.

Unfortunately for the world, the FBS went from sublime to succotash with one use. And if you think audiences deem the scream a tired prank, consider performers. For one of the most extreme reactions to an audience member using the FBS ploy, go to Youtube and look up Bill Hicks and Free Bird. This marvelous comedian, rest his soul, lost his everlovin’ mind during a show in Chicago. It was scary, fascinating, and most definitely not meant for younger listeners.

With this painful instance in mind, I must confess that I, too, did spew forth my own rendition of the FBS recently in a public venue. The twelve-string genius Leo Kottke was playing the Paramount Theater in Austin. Mind you, I adore Mr. Kottke. However, the only song of his I really know by name is “Pamela Brown,” his only single ever to make the charts. I’d had a couple of fizzy lifting drinks. I was happy and anxious to hear my favorite Leo tune. So, somehow, between songs, while Leo regaled the audience with his tales of wit and insight, it slipped out.

“Pamela Brown!”

My wife hit me in the leg, but it swayed me not in the least. At the next interval, it leapt out again. I couldn’t stop it.

“Pamela Brown!”

Leo tuned up some more and then launched into another story. Now, if you’ve never been to a Kottke concert, understand that listening to his stories is as enrapturing as watching his fingers make like Medusa’s hairdo on the frets. Little did I know that this next little talk was aimed at me, however. Leo proceeded to share an experience he had with one particularly stubborn, apparently dimwitted police officer on a rural road. Despite all his protestations and bountiful evidence, Kottke could not convince this country lawman that he did not deserve the citation he was writing.

Leo summed up his tale with a moral: “You can’t argue with a moron.” He then obligingly played the song I so vociferously requested. I sat there in my seat, all three inches tall, looking up, way up, at my wife, sheepish and silent. Silent I remained for the rest of the show. (I later found out that “Pamela Brown” isn’t even a Kottke original. The song was written by Tom T. Hall two years before Leo sang it.)

So, blessedly silent I shall be, for this year at least. If you hear some moron bellowing “Free Bird!” at the next concert, it’s not me, buddy.


3 Responses to “My New Year’s Resolution: Silence Is Golden”

  1. Roger White January 14, 2011 at 9:50 am #

    I have to share this. Mr. Kottke responded to my column:


    Here is a message from Leo Kottke:

    Thanks for listening. I actually remember this– something about trees and winter– and I was the moron I had in mind. As usual, I was not exactly clear. Life is hard.
    Leo K.

  2. B J beesley January 24, 2011 at 4:07 pm #

    Keep up all the work & don’t slow down.Many rewards are in your future.There will always be readers searching for good material to read like yours.B J

    • oldspouse January 24, 2011 at 4:21 pm #

      Thanks, B.J.! You’re the greatest!

      With love,

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