Elie's Expositions

A bereaved father blogging for catharsis... and for distraction. Accordingly, you'll see a diverse set of topics and posts here, from the affecting to the analytical to the absurd. Something for everyone, but all, at the core, meeting a personal need.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Sweet Home Alabama

My last entry, mentioning as it did famous misquotes, got me in mind of the great Southern rock anthem, Sweet Home Alabama, which contains what I feel is one of the most misunderstood rock lyrics. By misunderstood, I don't mean misheard - i.e., lyrics that are prone to being heard wrong - a subject about which whole books have been written. Rather, I mean lyrics where the songwriter's intent seems to have been lost on the general listening public.

Sweet Home Alabama has been called one of the great "answer songs" of all time. It was written in response to Neil Young's Southern Man, which itself was a scathing critique of racism and the persecution of Blacks in the South at that time. The fact that Neil tarred all Southerners with the same racism brush, is what so
infuriated Southern Rock band Lynyrd Skynryd, with Sweet Home Alabama being their angry, sarcastic response.

The key, widely misunderstood lyric in this song is:

In Birmingham they love the governor
Now we all did what we could do
Now Watergate does not bother me
Does your conscience bother you?
Tell the truth

The general interpretation of this lyric was that it implied a "who cares" attitude from these spokesmen for the South, concerning racism, Watergate, and other issues that "pinko liberals" like Neil Young worried about. Actually, I think the intended meaning is much more subtle and is essentially saying just the opposite. Young's song blamed the entire South for the actions/beliefs of the racists among them. In response,
Lynyrd Skynryd makes two key points:
  1. Not everyone supports the racist Southern leaders. It is critical to note, that the line "In Birmingham they love the governor" is followed by some disparaging sounds, something like "foo, foo, foo..." - as if to say: we love the governor - yeah, right! In fact, some of us are "doing what we can do" to combat racism.
  2. If you, Neil Young, claim that we Southerners are really all responsible for the actions of our racist leaders, than you Northerners (OK, Young was Canadian but the point is still valid!) are also all responsible for bad actions of Northern leaders - i.e., the Watergate conspirators! The point is thus: OK, Neil, does your conscience bother you for what happened in Watergate? Of course not, you had nothing to do with it, and in fact you're undoubtedly on the other side of that issue! So don't blame all Alabamans for their governor's failings!
I haven't seen been able to find this interpretation written anywhere, but I really believe this is what the band intended with this great anthem song. Besides, it rocks!
  • On a related note, does anyone know of a web site or book that gives interpretations / annotations of obscure or difficult rock lyrics - e.g., Stairway to Heaven, Blinded by the Light, American Pie, etc. Not fan-developed theories (like mine above!) but interpretations that were supplied, or at least approved, by the songwriters? Thanks!


At 7/20/05, 4:35 PM, Blogger GregoryT said...

Analysis of The Wall (the whole album)

At 7/20/05, 6:15 PM, Blogger rabbi neil fleischmann said...

Just discovered your site. I'll be back, please g-d.

So sorry to hear about your loss. May you somehow find comfort.


At 7/20/05, 8:11 PM, Blogger Soccer Dad said...

Didn't you think that Blinded by the Light is about Bruce's efforts to get noticed? (As well as criticism of what was then pop music - "Go-cart Mozart was checking out the weather charts ...")
And I thought that everyone knew what American Pie was about. Somehow, I don't think that Don McLean is the biggest Mick Jagger fan.
The tunes I really want to know the meanings to are "Inna Gadda Davida" and "Louie, Louie." :-)

At 7/20/05, 10:18 PM, Blogger Elie said...

There are multiple proposed interpretations of "American Pie" floating around the internet but AFAIK McLean has refused to officially confirm any of them.

I've had my own interpretations of some lines in "Blinded by The Light" but I'd love to see something from Bruce himself!

At 8/12/05, 9:18 AM, Blogger benros52589 said...

actually the rapper eminem does a messup to sweet home alabama and to sing for the moment i find that quite horrible


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