By Gary Lloyd
I listen to a lot of music. If I’m not in work meetings, chances are that my cheap Sony headphones are covering my ears, funneling the sweet sounds of a wide range of music, from Luke Combs to Linkin Park, from Don Henley to Dierks Bentley.
I’ve recently been on a Lynyrd Skynyrd kick. As a child of the 1990s, I grew up on this band, not because they were some new group, but because my parents listened to them as teenagers. I’m familiar with the songs we all know.
That chord progression in “Tuesday’s Gone”? The introduction to “Free Bird” and “Simple Man”? All easily recognizable. As an Alabama native who attended the University of Alabama, I’ve heard “Sweet Home Alabama” more times than I can count. I even heard it played live by a cover band in a Cancun hotel room lobby once. It’s been my ringtone.
One of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s songs came across a playlist of mine one day recently, and, admittedly, I had never heard of it. Titled “All I Can Do Is Write About It,” it grabbed my attention from the moment Ronnie Van Zant opened his mouth. I find inspiration in descriptive songwriting. I can’t play one chord on a guitar or rhythmically tap a snare drum, but I love learning about the songwriting process. I talk about it regularly with a couple buddies who are almost as nerdy about it as me.
The song’s message is clear: to disapprove of the paving of the United States by describing the natural beauty of this country. It’s a message to slow the “progress” down and appreciate what’s here already. I can almost hear the pain in Van Zant’s voice, the plea. In part, he sings:
“I’m not tryin’ to put down no big city
But the things they write about us is just a bore
Well, you can take a boy out of ol’ Dixieland, Lord
But you’ll never take ol’ Dixie from a boy”
As I’ve grown older, it’s become obvious to me what writing topics intrigue me most. They include the endless symbolism the woods provide, bygone eras that seem to be fading into distant memories, the experiences of old people, peculiar dogs and, well, Skynyrd lyrics. When I cover high school football, I’ve found that I’m no longer captivated by 53-yard flag routes or goal-line stands, but rather how the former head coach is enjoying his retirement, what the former star quarterback is up to now that he’s finished college.
I guess I want these words to matter beyond the life of a thin, yellowing newspaper page. And I think that’s the point that Van Zant was trying to get across in this song. The chorus, in part:
“And Lord I can’t make any changes
All I can do is write ‘em in a song”
So, for this season of life, I suppose I have Lynyrd Skynyrd to thank for my inspiration. I can’t make you care about those natural and historic areas, about how a 97-year-old World War II veteran replaced his own hot water heater, about the personality behind the football coach you want fired, about a longtime children’s librarian’s plans for retirement.
All I can do is write about it.
Gary Lloyd is the author of six books and is a contributing writer to the Cahaba Sun.